Christie Unilaterally Lifts Sports-Betting Prohibition

Even the State Legislature’s biggest proponent of sports betting said he doubted that any casinos would allow bets until the judge had ruled.

Mr. Christie, fresh from a trip to Mexico that was filled with the pomp and circumstance of a presidential run, announced his betting plan on the same day that he had called a meeting to address the crisis in Atlantic City. Competition from casinos in other states has led to the closing or planned closing of four casinos there this year, including Revel, which the governor had championed when investors tried to pull out before it was completed.

Those closings will leave 8,000 people out of work, and the day opened with more bad news. The CBS affiliate in Philadelphia reported that the Trump Taj Mahal would shut in November, putting an additional 2,800 employees out of work. The casino’s owners warned last week that it would have difficulty staying open. Already, New Jersey’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average and the rates of neighboring states.

Mr. Christie’s announcement also distracted from the reminders of another nagging problem for the governor: Monday was the first anniversary of the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which was later revealed to have been engineered and then concealed by the governor’s aides and allies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The lane closings, to the world’s busiest bridge, snarled traffic for commuters, school buses and emergency vehicles for four days in the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., where the mayor had declined to endorse Mr. Christie’s re-election.

On Monday, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, held a news conference with the bridge as a backdrop, and said that gridlock was the defining metaphor of the Christie administration, noting that the state led the nation in foreclosures and was ranked 48th in economic growth.

Last week, she said, a ratings agency issued the seventh credit downgrade of Mr. Christie’s tenure — more than under any other New Jersey governor — after the governor failed to make the pension payments he promised in legislation he once championed as having “fixed” the problem of rising retirement costs.

Mr. Christie’s directive on Monday was an attempt to work around a 1992 federal law that bans states from sanctioning or licensing sports betting. Four states that allowed some form of sports betting were exempt, and New Jersey was allowed one year to pass legislation allowing it, but failed to do so.

In 2011, the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment eliminating a prohibition on sports pools at casinos and racetracks. The following year, the Legislature passed a bill decriminalizing sports betting and establishing licensing requirements for casinos and racetracks to offer it.

Five major sports leagues and the United States attorney for New Jersey then challenged the state, saying the legislation violated the federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That challenge was successful, and was upheld by the Third Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which many sports betting advocates said was the end of the road for the plan.

But, as the state noted in its directive Monday, the leagues and the federal government acknowledged in court that while the state could not sponsor or license sports betting by law, there was nothing to stop New Jersey from repealing its own prohibition on sports betting. The Third Circuit agreed.

The directive said that casinos and racetracks would be exempt from criminal or civil prosecution for sports wagering, so long as they did not accept wagers on college or professional events that took place in New Jersey, or in which a team from any New Jersey college took part, regardless of where it was played.

In a filing by private lawyers hired to fight the case, the Christie administration asked the district court judge, Michael A. Shipp, to modify an injunction he issued in February 2013 blocking the state from allowing sports betting.

Mr. Christie’s move was unexpected; as recently as a month ago, he vetoed legislation that would have similarly repealed the prohibition on sports betting at casinos and racetracks.

A spokeswoman for the United States attorney, Paul J. Fishman, said his office had no advance notice of the governor’s directive or his request to the court, which is unusual in litigation that has played out for several years. But she declined to comment beyond that.

Michael Bass, a spokesman for the National Basketball Association, which has spoken for the leagues, said they, too, had no comment.

State Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who has been the Legislature’s leading proponent of sports betting and was a sponsor of the legislation the governor vetoed last month, welcomed the directive, saying that it would simply permit gambling that already takes place every day.

“The profits were going to offshore businesses and organized crime,” he said. “Now it can be regulated and produce tax revenue for vital public needs and generate economic benefits for Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey.”

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