Rep. Frank LoBiondo, (R-NJ), said he’s lost count of the people he’s spoken to who are out of their jobs as a result of the casino closings in Atlantic City, which is in his district. They’ve contacted his office, approached him at a community events, or events sponsored by Local 54.
“They’re devastated,” Lobiodo said in an interview this week. “It’s not like this is an area where there are many other opportunities. They’re looking at a huge disaster. How are they going to pay the mortgage? How are they going to pay the bills?”
He hopes he might be able to alleviate that situation with legislation that he and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-NJ), have sponsored, which would allow for sports betting in New Jersey.
H.R. 457 (Pallone) would exempt New Jersey from current federal law and H.R. 416 (LoBiondo) opens a window in which all states can enact a law providing for sports-betting in their state for four years upon being signed by the President.
He found it particularly galling that just days earlier, according to the American Gaming Association, Americans had wagered an estimated $3.8 billion on the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Yet Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have all fought New Jersey’s attempts to legalize Vegas-style (single game) sports betting in the past.
Their concerns, LoBiondo said, were that sports betting would “taint the game somehow.” He said he just doesn’t see the point in pretending that sports betting doesn’t go on anyway.
While Lobiondo doesn’t pretend that sports wagering would single-handedly solve all of Atlantic City’s problems, he said it would have a “significant impact.” And it would have the added benefit of closing down illegal betting operations.
In 1992, the federal government banned sports betting except in the four states where it was already legal: Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Oregon.
In 2011, a New Jersey ballot measure to allow sports betting passed overwhelmingly. But the NCAA and four professional sports leagues filed suit to block it. The Third Circuit ruled against New Jersey and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal.
Still, LoBiondo said he’s encouraged by recent developments. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling for legalized sports betting. And U.S. Sen. John McCain has called for Congressional hearings on the issue.
LoBiondo himself has no intention of giving up. Not when he has to regularly talk to people who are dealing with the effects of unemployment.
“When you have someone who has been so impacted and so devastated by this and doesn’t have much hope for where they’re going to turn, you can’t put yourself in their shoes because you’re not. But you try to imagine what they must feel like,” LoBiondo said.
As the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey representative, LoBiondo represents all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties and parts of Camden, Gloucester, Ocean and Burlington counties.
This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog