ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- New Jersey is charging ahead in its effort to offer legalized sports betting despite the presence of some hefty opposition standing between the state and the goal line.
The state said Monday that it could begin issuing licenses for sports betting on Jan. 9, assuming a federal lawsuit filed by the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA can be overcome.
The NCAA announced Monday that it would find new hosts for five championships scheduled to be held in New Jersey next year.
"Maintaining the integrity of sports and protecting student-athlete well-being are at the bedrock of the NCAA's mission, and are reflected in our policies prohibiting the hosting of our championships in states that provide for single game sports wagering," Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances, said in a news release. "Consistent with our policies and beliefs, the law in New Jersey requires that we no longer host championships in the state."
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement published regulations for sports betting on Monday in the New Jersey Register. That clears the way for casinos, horse-racing tracks or joint ventures involving both to apply for $50,000 sports pool licenses.
"With the publication of these regulations, New Jersey ensures effective regulation and oversight of sports wagering, consistent with its longstanding nationwide reputation for maintaining integrity and instilling public confidence in gaming operations," said David Rebuck, the division's director.
But state officials made no mention of the biggest obstacles to their plans to offer legalized sports betting: a federal law banning it in all but four states and a lawsuit in the federal courts between the state and the major professional sports leagues.
The NCAA, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League have collectively sued to block New Jersey's sports betting law from taking effect.
In response to a question from The Associated Press, Rebuck said the state is proceeding with its plans.
"The Division of Gaming Enforcement will begin processing applications submitted by any interested party seeking licensure," he said. "We are confident that there will be no legal impediments; if the court finds differently, we will consider all of the options before us."
Likewise, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, one of the leading advocates of sports betting in New Jersey, voiced little concern over the lawsuit, which he said "is not going to deter New Jersey residents from being able to place a bet on their favorite sporting events and enjoy the action at one of Atlantic City's casinos" and the horse tracks.
New Jersey enacted a sports betting law in January 2012, limiting bets to the Atlantic City casinos and the state's four horse-racing tracks. It is seen by supporters as a way to bring new revenue to the struggling casino and racing industries and to reclaim a portion of the billions of untaxed dollars flowing to organized crime or offshore gambling operations.
In May, Gov. Chris Christie said New Jersey would forge ahead with its sports betting law despite the federal ban on it here. The governor said he expected to be sued over the plan, and proponents of the state's plan to offer sports betting say a court battle could offer a shortcut to legalizing such bets in New Jersey rather than relying on a polarized Congress to repeal the federal ban.
New Jersey says about $380 billion a year is wagered illegally on sporting events and argues in its court filings that such gambling has not and will not damage the integrity of the major sports leagues, as the leagues have claimed.
The leagues also note that although New Jersey claims there would be no harm from allowing gambling on college games, New Jersey's plan would prohibit betting on games involving New Jersey college teams or teams from other states that are played in New Jersey.
The federal law at the heart of the dispute, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, carved out special exemptions for Nevada and three other states that had legalized sports betting before a 1991 deadline _ Delaware, Oregon and Montana.
Sports betting is just one of several new gambling options New Jersey is seeking to offer as the 12 Atlantic City casinos continue to struggle with fierce and ever-growing competition from casinos in neighboring states. New Jersey also is moving toward allowing in-state Internet gambling, though Christie has expressed reservations about its legality and has already vetoed one such bill.
The state is allowing the use of hand-held mobile gambling devices at the casinos and is moving quickly toward granting the same permission at horse tracks.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.