The Associated Press November 3, 2011, 9:26AM ET

Christie endorses NJ sports betting referendum

Now here's a guy with guts: A fan at a recent New York Giants game celebrated with the fan next to him -- who happened to be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor -- after the Giants won a close one.

"I said to him, `Great game!' and he said, `But the Giants didn't cover, and it blew my parlay,'" Christie related during an appearance Wednesday in Jersey City.

The anecdote showed how common and widely accepted sports betting has become in New Jersey, even though it is still illegal under federal law. During his appearance to discuss a financing plan for public parks, Christie also weighed in on sports betting, the lone referendum on next week's election ballot.

It asks voters whether they want sports betting to become legal in New Jersey, if and when a federal ban on it is lifted.

"I'll be voting yes," Christie said. "Gaming is surrounding us everywhere."

Relating the tale of the semi-happy Giants fan, Christie noted that sports betting currently is illegal, but still happens anyway.

"I don't think any of us are under the illusion that that betting isn't going on underground, so let's get it out from underground," he said. "The fact now is, gaming is everywhere in many states across the country."

Christie said if the referendum passes (and several polls have shown it favored by a roughly 2-to-1 margin), he will work with state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat, on legislation to allow it in New Jersey once it is legal under federal law.

Sports betting proponents want to help the state's struggling casinos and horse racing tracks, where bets would be taken, and provide a new source of tax revenue from a huge pool of money flowing untaxed to illegal bookmakers often allied with organized crime, or to unlicensed offshore Internet sites.

Joseph Brennan, CEO of the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, an Internet gambling trade group, said Christie's endorsement adds to the likelihood that New Jersey residents will one day be able to legally bet on sports.

"Given his stature, and his previous work as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, he'll bring the kind of law enforcement background that will make the state a model for regulating sports wagering, and protecting the integrity of our games," Brennan said.

The bill is seen as a boon to Atlantic City's 11 casinos and four racetracks: the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, Freehold Raceway, and Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing. A former race track site in Cherry Hill also would be eligible; lawmakers feared losing the affluent suburban market to nearby Philadelphia if Pennsylvania ever were to approve sports betting.

The benefits would come not so much by flooding the casinos and tracks with new revenue from sports bets, but by bringing new bodies to the facilities who would then presumably gamble and spend money on other things as well.

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Associated Press writer Samantha Henry in Jersey City contributed to this story.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC


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