Atlantic City Gets Lifeline as High Court Clears Sports Betting

(Bloomberg) -- Chris Christie has reason to gloat.

The former New Jersey governor, who left office in January with dismal approval ratings, scored a huge win for the state and its struggling Atlantic City casino resort Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting.

Christie, a former U.S. prosecutor, signed a law in 2012 to allow wagering on professional and college sports in Atlantic City and at racetracks, despite a 1992 federal law that bars such wagering in every state except Nevada.

A federal judge ruled in 2013 against the governor, siding with groups including the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Football League that sued to block the legislation. Christie appealed, sitting in the front row of the courtroom during arguments before the high court.

“A great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions,” Christie, a two-term Republican, said Monday on Twitter. “The Supreme Court agrees with us today. I am proud to have fought for the rights of the people of NJ.”

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Justices ruled Monday that the federal law is unconstitutional. Sports gambling could begin in weeks in casinos and racetracks in New Jersey, which has an advantage over other states thanks to 40 years of gambling experience, said Marcy Block, senior director in U.S. public finance for Fitch Ratings in New York.

“Most states have to pass statutes or do something to their constitutions” before sports betting can begin, Block said in an interview.

Several have already positioned themselves to take advantage of the ruling. Connecticut, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia recently enacted laws to offer legal betting if the court sided with New Jersey. Fourteen other states have introduced sports-gambling legislation in recent sessions, according to an April report from Fitch.

Even Democrat Phil Murphy, Christie’s successor, had kind words for his predecessor, a rarity since he took office.

“Today’s victory would not have been possible without the incredible bipartisan effort from so many in our state, particularly former Governor Christie and former State Senator Lesniak,” Murphy said.

Raymond Lesniak, the Elizabeth Democrat who retired this year after 40 years in the legislature, was a champion for the cause. The ruling is a “savior for Atlantic City,” he said in a telephone interview.

Once the second-largest U.S. casino market behind Las Vegas, Atlantic City has been showing signs of a rebound after a decade-long decline led to the closing of five of 12 casinos. The ruling comes ahead of the June 28 scheduled opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino at the former Trump Taj Mahal, once owned by President Donald Trump. Ocean Resort Casino, at the former Revel property, was bought by Colorado developer Bruce Deifik for $200 million in January and plans to open the same day.

Sports betting “will make Atlantic City a destination not just for day trippers, where it gets most of its revenue, but for sports bettors who will stay for long weekends throughout the year, dining, renting rooms and going to shows,” Lesniak said, “just like they do in Las Vegas.”

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