Sports betting bill written to include site that won’t host horse racing

Sports betting is only now set to become a reality, after the U.S. Supreme Court last month sided with New Jersey and overturned the federal ban on sports betting. | Matt SlocumAP Photo

06112018 01:37 PM EDT

Updated 06112018 04:20 PM EDT


Legislation Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Monday afternoon to allow sports betting in New Jersey includes a provision for a sports book at the site of a former racetrack in Cherry Hill where there are no plans to ever host horse racing again.

The site is owned by Jack Morris and Joseph Marino, two developers with ties to South Jersey power broker George Norcross.

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Most traces of the former track at what’s now Towne Place at Garden State Park, a high-end commercial and residential development, have been obliterated, except for the entrance gate at the intersection of Route 70 and Garden State Boulevard.

In 2011, New Jersey voters approved sports betting at the sites of current and “former“ horse racing tracks and casinos, but the definition of a former racetrack was not taken up until the Legislature passed a bill to implement the voters’ will.

The first attempt to enact a law to legalize sports betting in New Jersey, which was signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie in January 2012, was overturned in federal court. That law defined eligible sites for sports betting as simply casinos and “any former racetrack.“

In 2014, Phil Norcross, the brother of George Norcross, poker domino helped draft language for a new law to repeal the sports betting ban, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The language would allow the site of the former Garden State Park Racetrack in Cherry Hill, which closed in 2001, to host sports betting.

That law, which was signed by Christie, would allow sports betting at any place “where a horse race meeting with parimutuel wagering is conducted and includes any former racetrack where such a meeting was conducted within 15 years prior to the effective date of this act.”

The 15-year time frame swept in the Cherry Hill site as well as the former Atlantic City Race Course, which closed in 2015, but left out any other horse racetracks in the state that closed decades earlier.

Despite the 2014 law, New Jersey’s legal battle to overturn the federal sports betting ban would last years longer. Sports betting is only now set to become a reality, after the U.S. Supreme Court last month sided with New Jersey and overturned the federal ban on sports betting that was enacted in 1992 and sponsored by then-New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley.

The state Legislature on Thursday passed and sent to Murphy a bill to regulate and tax sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The legislation includes the 15-year provision. Murphy signed the bill on Monday and the first bets could be taken by the end of the week.

An earlier version, NJ A3911 18R, that was introduced a week before the Supreme Court ruling, would have required that former racetracks that want to have sports betting “commence the conduct of live horse racing under the regulation of the racing commission at the former racetrack site no later than July 1, 2020.”

That bill was discarded and replaced with a new version, NJ A4111 18R, as well as the Senate bill, that deleted that stipulation.

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