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Law allowing sports betting in New Jersey signed by Christie; legal challenges remain

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TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey is moving ahead with plans to permit betting on sports in the state and a racetrack said it will start taking bets next weekend, but legal challenges could stall the rollout.

Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed a bill passed this week in the Legislature that would partially repeal New Jersey's prohibition on sports wagering. Supporters of the legislation hail it as a potential remedy for the state's struggling racetrack and casino industries, but the effort faces significant opposition from professional sports leagues and the NCAA.

The leagues and the association have gone to court to try to prevent New Jersey's racetracks and casinos from taking sports bets, which Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport said it plans to begin on Oct. 26. Racetrack adviser Dennis Drazin said it has already set up an independent entity to regulate the wagering.

Spokesmen for Major League Baseball and the NBA, NFL and NHL declined to comment. Messages left with the NCAA seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The state attorney general withdrew its request for a U.S. District Court judge to clarify an injunction preventing sports betting after Christie signed the measure. Christie said he believes the bill adheres to federal law and responds to the issues raised in federal courts.

"As I've said all along, I am a strong proponent of legalized sports wagering in New Jersey," Christie said in a statement. "But given earlier decisions by federal courts, it was critical that we follow a correct and appropriate path to curtail new court challenges and expensive litigation. I believe we have found that path in this bipartisan legislative effort."

Attorney General John Hoffman last month issued a directive for the state to halt enforcement of sports betting laws at racetracks and casinos. No tracks or casinos have started offering it yet.

"This will help clear away the legal obstacles and provide a clear path to finally bringing sports betting to New Jersey," Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, the chief proponent of the measure, said in a statement. "And it couldn't happen at a more important time. It will be a lifeline to Atlantic City casinos and for the horse racing industry, creating jobs and economic opportunities that will serve the city and the state for years to come. Sports betting is now much closer to a reality in New Jersey."

The issue goes back to a 2011 referendum in which voters approved sports wagering. The Legislature and governor enacted sports wagering legislation in 2012, but the pro sports leagues and the NCAA went to court to stop the betting.

A judge ruled against the state and enjoined it not to allow sports betting under a 1992 federal law that limited such wagering to four states, including Nevada. On an appeal, the court agreed but suggested that betting could go forward if it's not regulated by the state.

Drazin said he expects the Oct. 26 date to be a "soft opening."

Tweeted Lesniak: "Christie signed my sports betting legislation see you at Monmouth Racetrack Oct 26."

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