The New York Times Magazine Got It Way Wrong About Christie And Sports Betting

Former NJ state Senator Ray Lesniak is scheduled to testify before Governor Phil Murphy’s NJEDA Task Force about tax incentives, weighing in on a discussion with "lots of voices, but little reason."

The following is an excerpt from state Senator Ray Lesniak’s book, Beating the Odds: The Epic Battle that brought Legal Sports Betting Across America, which will be released March Madness Selection Sunday on March 17th.

A link to The New York Times piece in question follows the excerpt.

Chapter Eleven:  Christie Tries Three Times To Torpedo My Challenge To The Federal Ban On Sports Betting

As if fighting the Department of Justice, the NFL et al and the NCAA wasn’t enough, I had to overcome opposition from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who three times tried to torpedo my challenge to overturn the federal ban.

At the start, Governor Christie took Nevada casinos’ position against expanding sports betting in America. Governor-elect Chris Christie had appointed a Gaming Committee Transition Team that included Nevada-based casino corporate executives, Joseph A. Corbo, Jr.,, Vice President and General Counsel, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and David Satz, Vice President of Government Relations and Development, Harrah’s Casino. Its report recommended “Do not waste money to pursue sports betting until federal laws change.”

Governor Corzine was in office when I filed my lawsuit in the U.S. District Court and had agreed
to intervene as a Plaintiff. When Corzine was defeated by Chris Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial election, I turned to Governor Christie for his support. It was not forthcoming.

In a letter dated July 12, 2010 to U.S. District Court Magistrate Tonianne J. Bongiovanni, who was
assisting District Court Judge Garrett Brown in the litigation, Governor Christie’s Chief Counsel, Jeffrey S. Chiesa, stated, “After careful consideration, Governor Christie has decided not to participate in this action. Accordingly, we will not be filing a Complaint to intervene on his behalf…the Governor has determined that the State’s limited resources would be better utilized by focusing on other, more immediate issues facing the citizens of New Jersey.”

Governor Christie adopted almost verbatim the position of the Nevada-based casinos.

Christie’s failure to intervene was cited by Judge Brown in his opinion dismissing my Complaint
for lack of standing to raise the Tenth Amendment issue, “Under New Jersey law, the proper party to bring such a claim would be New Jersey’s attorney general, but the governor and attorney general have not intervened in this lawsuit.”

Additionally, there was another legal hurdle to overcome. Eric H. Holder, Jr., the U.S. Attorney General, raised the issue that New Jersey’s Constitution did not allow sports betting and made a motion to Dismiss the Complaint. While the motion was pending, on December 13, 2010, the Senate and Assembly,
by the supermajority required, passed my Resolution, SCR132, to amend the New Jersey Constitution to allow sports betting, which would be a ballot questions posed to the citizens of New Jersey in the following November general election.

While SCR132 was being heard in the Legislature, the president of the Casino Association of New
Jersey, Joseph Corbo of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, following direction from his Nevada-based headquarters, wrote a letter to state Assembly Gaming Committee Chairman John Burzichelli opposing it. Corbo’s letter had no impact. SCR132 passed the Senate (36-3) and the Assembly (54-17-4).

A Resolution for a referendum to amend the New Jersey Constitution requires a three-fifths vote
in the Senate and Assembly to get on the ballot. It does not require a governor’s signature, and Governor Christie was silent on the issue while it was going through the Legislature. After voters showed their overwhelming support for sports betting, Christie signed my legislation authorizing sports betting at New Jersey casinos and racetracks.

Christie’s support waned after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department
and sports leagues in an opinion written by Judge Fuentes, which opened the door to our ultimate victory. Judge Fuentes wrote, “We do not read PASPA to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering.” I ran with that opening and quickly passed legislation repealing New Jersey’s laws prohibiting sports betting at our casinos and racetracks. Governor Christie was not pleased and vetoed the legislation.

Christie stated in his veto message, “While I do not agree with the Circuit Court’s conclusion, I do believe that the rule of law is sacrosanct, binding on all Americans. That duty adheres with special solemnity to those elected officials privileged to swear an oath to uphold the laws of our Nation…I cannot sign this bill, which was introduced on the same day the Supreme Court declined to hear our appeal, and then was rushed to final passage just three days later. Ignoring federal law, rather than working to reform federal standards, is counter to our democratic traditions and inconsistent with the Constitutional values I have sworn to defend and protect.” Governor Christie’s words would come back to haunt us again later in both the District Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Legislators from Republican strongholds in horse racing and breeding areas of New Jersey laid the hammer on Christie and threatened to override his veto. Governors dread having a veto overridden knowing that once legislators know they can override, they will do it again, and again, and again.

Veteran Monmouth County Republican Senator Joe Kyrillos, a Christie ally, used his political wisdom and the power of the override threat to negotiate tweaks to the legislation that Governor Christie agreed to sign, rather than have his veto overridden.

On October 9, 2014, I introduced S2460, virtually the same bill Christie vetoed. It again sailed
through the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Christie on October 17.

With sports betting legislation in place, Governor Christie had no choice but to defend it against the challenge of the Justice Department and the sports leagues. He hired Supreme Court Superstar Lawyer Ted Olson to represent the state the rest of the way. We had finally won the tug-of-war for Governor Christie’s support. It took awhile, huge approval from New Jersey voters, and a threat to override a veto, but Governor Christie eventually came around and helped carry the ball across the finish line.

NY Times Magazine:
“Nobody tried to legalize sports betting outside Nevada until Chris Christie. By the time Christie became New Jersey’s governor in 2010, Atlantic City was in trouble. The novelty appeal of its casinos had faded. Hotel bookings had plummeted — and tax-generating casino revenues with them. Christie saw sports betting as a way to counter those losses. His first year in office, he pushed a referendum that would allow it at any racetrack or casino in the state. The referendum passed, and Christie signed it into law.”

Ray Lesniak is the former state Senator from LD20.

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