Mitt Romney and New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie attend a rally at Exeter High School Jan. 8 in Exeter, N.H.
For a 49-year-old first-term governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie has a high profile in the national GOP.
The portly, lively speaker’s name was floated as a possible presidential and vice-presidential candidate, and though he ultimately did not seek either nomination, he will deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention later this month in Tampa, Fla.
While his national star is clearly rising, Christie isn’t done with New Jersey yet.
The governor made a move earlier this year that, while controversial, could potentially deliver him a second term and revitalize an struggling city in one fell swoop.
Christie made national headlines by signing a law that will legalize sports betting in New Jersey’s 12 casinos and four racetracks.
To understand the implications of this declaration, let’s take a quick look at New Jersey history.
In the early 1970s, Atlantic City was in rough shape.
The once-mighty Jersey Shore resort town had been on the decline for years, victim to the new age of transportation. The ease with which its hotels’ former clientele could travel to more exotic locales torpedoed what had been a burgeoning business through the first half of the 20th century.
The city badly needed a spark.
In 1976, the people of New Jersey voted to legalize casino gambling in Atlantic City. It was strictly regulated so as to maintain a family-friendly resort atmosphere, but the new law was successful nonetheless. Massive hotel-casinos sprang up on the boardwalk, high-profile boxing matches and concerts began filling auditoriums and the economy was fully resuscitated. By the late 1980s, Atlantic City had regained its status as a premier tourist destination.
Today, history seems to be repeating itself. The city has struggled of late, having suffered the one-two punch of the 2008 recession and increased competition from other states eager to get in on the lucrative gambling business.
The governor’s proposal, which has been met with applause from sports fans and threats from leagues, would make New Jersey the fifth state to legalize sports betting. 1992’s federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act limited the practice to four states: Delaware, Nevada, Oregon and Montana. New Jersey would be in flagrant violation of that law, but Christie believes he has a case.
“I don’t believe that the federal government has the right to decide that only certain states can have sports gambling. On what basis?” Christie told the Associated Press. “And it doesn’t acknowledge that there is illegal sports gambling going on in every state in America, as we speak. So why is this more injurious than illegal sports gambling to the operations of the league or the NCAA?”
The NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues are vehemently opposed to the proposed measure and sued the state on the grounds that it “would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition.”
There may be some truth to that — even after nearly 100 years, the Chicago “Black Sox” squad of 1919 remains infamous for taking bribes to fix the World Series, and betting on college sports remains controversial.
Still, it will be interesting to see how the federal government reasons that a casino in Las Vegas has more of a right than its Atlantic City counterpart to play host to sports betting.
Also, Christie’s plan would send half the proceeds of New Jersey sports betting to fund treatment for gambling addiction.
A drawn-out legal battle will likely take place before many casinos are willing to gamble on the new venture. But should Christie and New Jersey win, it would mark a second revitalization of Atlantic City while simultaneously opening the door for other states to challenge the longstanding federal ban in the future.
The move is controversial, no doubt, but Christie has never been one to shy from controversy.
New Jersey voters appear to be in favor of it in numbers that might just earn him a second term, especially if the measure can bring Atlantic City back to its former glory yet again.
“If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us,” he told the AP.
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