NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Games In NJ Could Spur Constitutional Change

Written By Derek Helling on October 28, 2020 - Last Updated on January 14, 2022
college sports betting amendment

If everything goes according to plan, there will be NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in New Jersey in 2025. Without a college sports betting amendment to the Garden State’s constitution, however, they may not have the desired local impact.

Currently, NJ sports betting laws ban wagering on college sporting events that happen within the borders of the Garden State. A proposed amendment would alter that somewhat in its current form.

The immediate question is how long it will remain in that form.

What’s up with the NJ college sports betting amendment?

Right now, the law bars NJ sportsbooks from taking action not only on in-state collegiate events but also on in-state collegiate teams regardless of where the events take place. That means no markets on Rutgers’ football game at Ohio State on Nov. 7, for example.

Amendment 133 would modify those bans. Sportsbooks could take action on NCAA Division I championship events that take place within the state’s borders. That would be the case even if in-state teams were participating.

The amendment is not a wholesale repeal of the in-state college sports ban, however. Regular-season events involving in-state teams or taking place in the state would still be out of bounds for betting.

Additionally, conference-level championship events would still be impermissible. Lower-level NCAA championship events would stay on the restricted list as well.

The push to make this modification didn’t just appear out of thin air. As a matter of fact, you could say that the NCAA itself provided the motivation for the proposal.

Why is the state considering this change now?

As is the case with most things, just follow the money. The NCAA recently released its latest list of championship event host sites. It awarded a 2025 DI men’s basketball regional tournament to the Prudential Center in Newark.

Under the current law, NJ sportsbooks couldn’t take any bets on any of the games happening at the site. That’s why NJ state Sen. Paul Sarlo proposed the amendment.

“This is an important opportunity we have to capitalize upon,” Sarlo said in a recent statement that appeared in the Asbury Park Press.

“We need to support and sustain this growing market that is fast becoming a significant part of our regional and state economies. March Madness is a high-profile event on the sports betting calendar, and we should be a key player.”

Punting wagering on the regional market would mean pushing bettors to illegal bookies, offshore websites or across the Pennsylvania border to place their bets. Sarlo wants to avoid that situation.

Because of the rigorous nature of amending the state’s constitution, however, Sarlo’s proposal in its current form may not go far enough. It might prove more popular to repeal this part of the law altogether.

Why did NJ ban in-state college sports betting?

Simply put, it was the consequence of effective lobbying. Leaders in the college sports industry made several arguments for a carveout for betting on college sports.

They argued that because the athletes in the games are compensated so poorly for their labor, they are more susceptible to match-fixing attempts than their counterparts in other leagues. Proponents of this measure also stated a belief that an exception would help shield athletes from bullying and criticism from disgruntled bettors.

So far, however, there’s no evidence to support the claim that legal wagering on college sporting events compromises integrity or subjects athletes to abuse. Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all treat college sports like all others for betting purposes.

To date, there have been no recorded instances of match-fixing attempts or rampant athlete abuse by bettors in those states.

That’s why an amendment proposal along these lines might be best served by going all the way. Not only does the NJ legislature need a supermajority to pass such a proposal, but the state’s voters must approve of it in a referendum as well.

Making the law in NJ identical to that in those states along these lines would afford college athletes and teams all the same regulatory protections that other leagues enjoy.

At this point, however, Sarlo just wants to crack the door open.

Photo by AP Photo/Mike Derer, File
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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