NJ voters have these two statewide ballot questions to answer

KATIE CRIST | OCTOBER 15, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

One ballot question asks whether sports betting should be expanded to include collegiate teams and sporting events within NJ. Pictured: Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral in NCAA football game against Michigan State, Oct. 9, 2021, in Piscataway.

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New Jersey voters face two ballot questions when they vote this November, both asking them to rewrite the state Constitution’s rules on legalized gambling.

The first is whether to expand the ability to bet on collegiate teams and sporting events in New Jersey; the law already allows betting on college sports events that take place outside the state. The ballot question is ultimately an extension of the law signed in 2018 that permits sports betting in casinos and racetracks but excludes any gambling involving New Jersey college teams and any collegiate sporting events in the state.

The second is whether to allow nonprofit groups that conduct games of chance like bingo or raffles to use the proceeds to fund their operations. Because wagering is enshrined in the state Constitution, any changes must be authorized by voters.

At the top of the Nov. 2 election is the choice for governor between Phil Murphy, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Jack Ciattarelli. All 120 seats in the Legislature are also up for election, as are local offices.

More betting on college games?

College sports betting was not included in the original gambling legislation because lawmakers and others had concerns that student athletes may be subject to match-fixing if gambling was authorized. However, the NCAA recently adopted a policy allowing college athletes to receive compensation from endorsements and commercials following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prevented the organization from barring that compensation. That change has lowered the risk of gambling’s possible effect on athletic performance.

Another reason New Jersey lawmakers sought the change: the prospect of the tax revenue that could come from gambling on in-state college sports.

The state now charges an 8.5% tax for in-person betting and 13% for internet wagers. The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services estimates that, if passed, this amendment will increase revenues to the state and some counties and municipalities as a result of the expansion of sports wagering, but it was unable to determine exactly how much revenue might come in. According to Bloomberg, casinos, racetracks and online gambling providers generated $302.7 million in tax collections for the state in 2020. Of that sum, about $50 million in tax revenue was generated from sports betting, according to data compiled by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), a primary sponsor of the resolution asking voters to make the change in November, credits his support to the tax revenue that would be generated as a result.

“Sports betting generates a large tax revenue for New Jersey, and sports betting operations pay a 1.25 percent tax that goes to towns and counties,” Gopal said.  “That is money that goes towards economic development, including road improvements, transportation and infrastructure, tourism, public safety, and properties located on or near the racetrack.”

Thinking about the money

A specific source of revenue that lawmakers are hoping to capitalize on is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Eastern Regional Tournament set to take place in Newark in 2025. Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) has said that prohibiting gambling on an event of that size would be a missed opportunity for the state.

“Some of the top teams in 2025, whoever they may be at that time, will be here. I’m sure there will be a lot of activity throughout the country, and betting. We just felt it was not fitting for us to sit back and not be able to collect that revenue,” Sarlo said.

But that may not be enough to convince New Jerseyans to pass the legislation. A recent poll from Stockton University indicates that voters are leaning against permitting gambling on college sports. The poll said 45% opposed the amendment, with 40% in support and 14% unsure. These results reflect a shift in public opinion from an earlier poll, in which only 25% of voters supported the proposal to expand sports betting, 26% were undecided and 49% were opposed, but does not indicate voters will approve the decision. The poll was conducted during the week of Sept. 17-25 and featured responses from 552 registered and likely voters who were interviewed by phone. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 4.1 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

New Jerseyans have not always embraced all kinds of legal gambling, said John Froonjian, executive director of the William Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. In 1974, they voted against allowing casino gambling statewide, but two years later approved it while restricting it to Atlantic City. In 2016, voters rejected an expansion of casino gambling to north Jersey.

“Voters have always been cautious about what forms of gambling they allow,” Froonjian said.

In the case of this specific ballot question, the poll indicates that men ages 18-29 are most likely to vote in favor, while a majority of women and people ages 50 and older are more likely to oppose it, Froonjian said.

The question does not have universal support due to a lack of messaging, Froonjian said, adding, “No one is advocating for why we should make this change.”

Froonjian said Stockton plans to conduct another poll closer to November to get a more accurate representation of where New Jersey voters will stand on Election Day.

Spending the proceeds

The second question on the ballot asks voters to allow certain organizations that can now legally conduct such games of chance as bingo or raffles to use the proceeds from the games to finance their operations.

Currently, nonprofit groups, including charitable, religious, fraternal and civic organizations, volunteer fire companies, and first aid or rescue squads must use the proceeds from any game of chance for charitable purposes.

If voters agree, the new amendment will allow the groups to direct proceeds from the games to their own operations. This privilege has already existed for veterans and senior citizens groups because of an approved ballot question in 2013.

The resolution to put the question before voters passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously.

“Many non-profits have seen major financial set-backs over the last year,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex), one of the sponsors, after the resolution passed the Assembly last June. “We have seen that allowing veterans and senior citizen groups to use the proceeds from bingo and raffles has helped them tremendously and it is time we expanded those benefits to more groups.”

Help nonprofits stay afloat?

Linda Czipo, president and CEO of the Center for Non-Profits, spoke in favor of the ballot question at a Senate committee hearing in June 2021.

“Many nonprofit organizations have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and this law could help them stay afloat,” she stated. “The charitable community is incredibly important to the people of New Jersey in times of crisis.”

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) said that not only would this help organizations, but also the more than 30,000 individuals employed by them.

“These hard-working employees perform incredibly important jobs, and the pandemic has dramatically impacted these programs’ ability to function,” he said. “The net proceeds from game nights will provide much needed support for these organizations.”

So far, no groups or committees have formed to support or oppose this second ballot question and there has been no public polling to show where voters stand on this matter.

Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will commence Oct. 23 and end Oct. 31. Mail-in ballots need to be postmarked or deposited into a drop box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.  

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-10-15 03:47:12 -0700