Christie could face Opposition for his Pro-Sports Betting Agenda in 2016

While New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is right that PASPA is unfair and that New Jersey is losing out on a lot of potential revenue, one as to wonder whether his fight will cost him politically in his expected run for the 2016 Republican nomination.

Chris Christie was in the news last week because of a radio interview he did regarding New Jersey's decision to try and legalize sports betting. Sitting in as a special co-host on the Boomer and Carton in the Morning show in New York City, Christie suggested that it was ridiculous that only Nevada is allowed to offer single game sports betting and that the law should be changed to treat all states equally. Not surprisingly Christie disagreed with the lower federal court ruling in March where a judge sided with the sports leagues and ruled that PASPA (the 1992 federal bill that currently prohibits states other than Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana from offering sports betting) is constitutional and that Congress has the right to regulate states differently with regards to sports betting. But Christie also acknowledged that the final decision on PASPA's constitutionality will not be decided in the lower courts and that as governor he is willing to take the challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling. Christie also argued that the leagues were being disingenuous in their comments that sports betting needs to stay a criminal activity to protect the fairness of the games:

"That is the folly of the leagues' argument — that somehow if you legalize it, take it out of the hands of criminals, that somehow you are destabilizing the leagues. I mean, only the commissions of these leagues and the NCAA can make that argument with a straight face,"

In an effort to demonstrate that New Jersey doesn't agree with the current sports betting law and also as a way to generate some new customers, Monmouth Park raceway this week introduced a play for free contest where customers can submit picks against the spread at a William Hill kiosk at the track and the person who picks the most winners for the week gets $2,000 while second place wins $500. There is also a $250 Thursday proposition card and in total over $50,000 will be handed out to winners. Because it's a free contest it doesn't violate any laws but it will introduce customers to William Hill and whet New Jersey resident's appetites for when they could possibly bet on NFL games for real.

While Christie is right that PASPA is unfair and that New Jersey is losing out on a lot of potential revenue, one as to wonder whether his fight will cost him politically in his expected run for the 2016 Republican nomination.  Chris Christie was the favorite to win the Republican nomination at most online sportsbooks only 3 months ago but he has since dropped to as high as 10/1 odds and currently trails Paul Ryan, Marcio Rubio and Jeb Bush. I questioned one European company that has been creating these odds as to why Christie's price has been creeping up and a bookmaker at the company said that they believe Christie is just too moderate to win the Republican nomination and the more he comes out in favor of issues like gay marriage, online gambling and sports betting the more he will disassociate himself with the majority of the Republican Party who are still very neo conservative.

Obviously the bookmaker is correct. Most of the delegates in the Republican Party realize that they likely can't win an election with the extreme right wing candidates they have been fielding lately, but they also aren't willing to move in a draconian manner in the other direction and alter their stances on issues that they believe defines them like their opposition to abortion, gay marriage and gambling. The party is also still very much in bed with the religious right who in the past vowed to use all their power to defeat any candidate that comes out in favor of issues they staunchly oppose and gambling is still one of the issues that is high on the list of groups like Focus on the Family. While these right wing religious groups claim they will never support a particular candidate, they will use their advocacy groups to work against candidates they feel will harm their agenda. More concerning to Christie though is that the sports leagues are almost certain to use their lobbying efforts to defeat him in 2016 if he continues to vocally challenge the leagues as to their reasoning for wanting sports betting to remain illegal. While the leagues are clearly not happy that New Jersey is trying to overturn PASPA they are even more upset at being called liars and hypocrites in their contention that sports betting must remain illegal to protect the fairness of games. And regardless of what Christie may believe, more Americans care about their teams than they do about betting and if the leagues start a public relations campaign to defeat Christie it will harm him politically. Don't forget that only 2/3 of New Jersey residents voted in favor of sports betting on a 2011 ballot question after being told it will help struggling race tracks and Atlantic City casinos but even after the decision was made most New Jersey residents admitted it wasn't a big issue to them when asked by media if they put a lot of forethought into the vote.  But New Jersey aside Christie's biggest struggle in this regard could be in the Southern states like Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, etc. where most residents don't bet on sports but love their sports teams and will do whatever the leagues tell them to do. And it's these red states that always decide which candidate will represent the Republican Party. Nevertheless it appears this is one issue on which Christie is preparing to take that risk.

Another concern for Christie is that his pro-online gambling and sports betting agenda could put him at odds with Nevada and particularly Sheldon Adelson, who is one of the largest backers of the Republican Party. Adelson hasn't stated anything publicly against Christie but he did introduce the website and Christie did meet with both Adelson and Nevada Senator Harry Reid last month. Adelson also held a fundraiser for Christie at the Palazzo but that was for his re-election effort as governor of New Jersey and Adelson wasn't present for that event. What Christie and Adelson discussed hsa been widely speculated but there has been some indication that part of the discussions revolved around Harry Reid's new bill to strengthen the Wire Act, which will be introduced once the California bills are dead. Apparently Reid wants to amend the Wire Act to provide an exemption for poker, while keeping other forms of gambling illegal. If one believes the rumors then Adelson is prepared to give up his fight against online poker in exchange for ensuring that no federal bill is ever introduced to legalize casino wagering and sports betting. Poker is losing popularity and really was never a huge money maker for land based casinos so that concession isn't significant as far as Adelson is concerned. As for sports betting, it's not really an issue since the Wire Act clearly prohibits interstate sports betting and Christie's desire is for intrastate sports betting at race tracks and Atlantic City casinos which will be decided when the courts make their final ruling on PASPA. It appears that Christie isn't interested in a federal law to allow sports betting at the interstate level.

The real piece de resistance that will define whether Christie wins or loses support in his run for the Presidency from Adelson and other delegates, however, is how he handles online casino gaming for slots and table games and Christie knows he is in a catch-22 situation. Christie supported a state bill to legalize all online gambling at Atlantic City casinos but it's obviously not winning many fans federally. The big casino giants like Caesars and MGM want a federal bill to legalize casino wagering while Adelson and most Republicans want to ensure that no federal bill will ever be passed to legalize casino wagering. And Christie's support for the New Jersey bill was done so reluctantly because he knew it would upset many traditional Republican delegates. In fact that's the reason Christie originally vetoed the online gambling bill which had been passed by both Houses in New Jersey prior to his being elected as the governor. When Christie had plans to run for the 2012 presidency, he knew it would cost him to be seen as the first governor to legalize online casino wagering so he vetoed the bill saying he would only support it if it passed a referendum to buy him time. But when the referendum did pass Christie reluctantly signed the new bill into law although he demanded concessions to the bill to appease some of those same Republican delegates. Clearly Christie would have preferred to stay totally neutral on the issue but that wasn't feasible and while he would like to be president at some point he also couldn't compromise his current job as governor and refusing to live up to his agreement to sign an online gambling bill that passed a referendum would have certainly cast him in a negative light within the state. So Christie had no choice but to sign the bill but he also hasn't championed it.

Ironically, that could be the very reason Christie is being so vocal about challenging PASPA now – to take the public and Congress' mind off the fact that New Jersey is pursuing legalized casino gambling. It's only a matter of time that New Jersey becomes the first state to go live with online slots and table games and when that occurs the proverbial will hit the fan among all the neo conservatives mentioned earlier as well as with the casino giants, Adelson and other Republican backers. So Christie needs to somehow deflect attention from that inevitable day and there is no doubt that Christie hopes he can do so by making another issue (sports betting) the topic du jour. That is obviously why Christie decided to discuss the issue ad infinitum on the radio and why he seems determined to challenge the leagues and create a stir regarding sports betting in hopes that when online gambling does move forward in Atlantic City it will be missed by many who will still be discussing sports betting.

Regardless of the outcome with New Jersey's challenge to PASPA and the introduction of casino gambling Christie will almost certainly receive a lot of backlash in the party and with backers for his apparent pro gambling agenda and in the end it could indeed mean the difference of getting the Republican nod or not. Christie's moderate views are indeed a breath of fresh air compared to the likes of Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush but unfortunately moderation doesn't usually win points with Republican delegates and Christie could find himself as the odd man out to a candidate who staunchly opposes all forms of gambling. It seems 10/1 odds may even be too low given Christie's dilemma.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

Sign-up for the OSGA Newsletter!

Every week get news and updates, exclusive offers and betting tips delivered right to you email inbox.