Two of the most vocal advocates of New Jersey online gambling and sports betting — state Sens. Ray Lesniak and Jim Whelan — are moving on.
Whelan and Lesniak leaving the Senate
The departure of the two longtime state politicians from the Senate leaves an obvious leadership gap on gaming issues in general and online gambling and sports betting in the state.
The two Democrats didn’t always agree … but both have been recognized in the Legislature as experts on those (gambling) issues.
Lesniak, if he were to win the New Jersey governorship, might be a net positive for gaming in the state. It would mean an activist gaming proponent in the state’s highest office.
Lesniak and NJ gambling
Lesniak has been synonymous with gambling policy in the state. If a gambling issue came up, he was usually one of the thought leaders on the subject or spearheading legislation.
That was certainly the case with online gambling, when he authored a bill that eventually became law. The result of online gambling legalization has been a consistent revenue provider for AC casinos from iGaming.
That has been a welcome addition in an otherwise uncertain world for casino gaming in the state. (A number of casinos have closed in the city in recent years, the latest the Trump Taj Mahal in 2016.)
Lesniak has also led the way on NJ sports betting, even though that effort has met with a string of defeats in federal court. The state is appealing to the US Supreme Court in an effort to legalize sports betting within its borders.
Lesniak told Brennan that pursuing sports betting and an expansion of online gambling via international licensees would be on his agenda.
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Whelan and NJ gambling
Whelan, the former mayor of Atlantic City, has looked out for the interests of his town during his tenure in government.
But he has been active on the iGaming and sports betting fronts, as well:
- Along with Lesniak, he has pushed back against efforts to ban online gambling at the federal level.
- He has co-sponsored sports betting legislation.
- He also authored legislation to deal with daily fantasy sports, even though that bill did not pass in 2016.
What’s clear is there will be a bit of a vacuum to fill on gaming issues in New Jersey’s Senate once Whelan and Lesniak depart. Who will step up to fill their shoes will likely shape issues pertaining to gaming expansion in the state in the future.