New Jersey residents are nearly evenly split on whether the state should continue its efforts to legalize sports betting, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found the state almost equally divided on whether New Jersey should appeal a recent federal court decision that upheld a ban on legalized sports betting in the state.
New Jersey missed a chance to legalize sports betting in the 1990s; it is currently legal in only four states: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.
A federal appeals court last month ruled that New Jersey's sports betting law conflicts with federal law and shouldn't be implemented.
“The gut reaction of the electorate is one of indecision and hesitancy,” said Krista Jenkins, a professor of political science and the poll's director.
State officials, backed by Gov. Chris Christie, have been trying to overturn the federal law banning sports betting, arguing, among other things, that it is unconstitutional because it treats states differently.
The poll found that 37 percent of respondents felt the state should appeal that ruling and keep fighting to overturn the ban, while 34 percent said the state should end its efforts to legalize sports betting until the federal ban is lifted; 22 percent said they were undecided.
The last time the poll asked a similar question, in July 2012, 45 percent of respondents endorsed the state's efforts to allow sports betting, with 38 percent opposed until the federal ban is no longer in effect.
New Jersey sees sports betting as a way to help its struggling casinos and racetracks, which are battling increasing competition from casinos in neighboring states. They also view it as a source of new tax revenue from gambling that is currently going on, against the law and untaxed, often under the control of organized crime.
The major professional sports leagues in baseball, football, basketball and hockey oppose New Jersey's efforts to overturn the ban, citing the possible perception among some people that the integrity of games might be affected if widespread legal gambling was allowed.
“This is an issue that's been followed closely by a variety of players,” said Donald Hoover, a professor in FDU's International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and a former casino executive. “Atlantic City casinos and a few racetracks are poised to benefit from a revenue and visitation boon, but professional and collegiate sports organizations have challenged the state's decision for fear that it will cause integrity issues with respect to the athletes and the games that they play.”
The case was heard by a three-judge panel at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, and the state could seek to have the case re-heard by the full appeals court. But the September ruling more likely means New Jersey's last chance to legalize sports gambling is to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
The poll of 702 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 30 through Oct. 5, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.