Pro-Gambling NJ Lawmakers On The Way Out: Whelan Eyes Retirement, Lesniak Sets Sights On Governor

Posted By Jessica Welman on January 9, 2017

[toc]The new class of lawmakers in New Jersey are sworn in and ready for a new legislative session.

Meanwhile, more senior politicians have their sights set on some different goals. For one, the goal is retirement. For another, the goal is the governor’s office in Trenton.

State Sen. James Whelan announced his intent to retire after being sworn in for his last term as a state senator. Whelan has been a member of the Senate since 2008 and will retire in January of 2018.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak made public his intentions to run for governor. Current Gov. Chris Christie has reached his eight-year term limit and cannot seek re-election in the fall.

Both Whelan and Lesniak have been key figures in the growth and development of gambling in the Garden State.

Whelan’s history in New Jersey

Whelan served on Atlantic City Council in the 1980s before being elected mayor of the city in 1989. He served three terms as mayor. Whelan later served in the State Assembly before earning a seat in the Senate in 2007.

Whelan is best known to the New Jersey casino industry for staunchly fighting to maintain the brick and mortar casino monopoly Atlantic City holds in the state. He was also one of the more popular mayors in Atlantic City history.

Last year he sponsored legislation attempting to tax and regulate daily fantasy sports in New Jersey.

Whelan has a history as an educator as well as a politician. He spent his career switching between teaching, politics, and serving on the school board.

Lesniak’s history in New Jersey

Lesniak has been a member of the state Senate since 1983. Like Whelan, he has played a major role in casino development in the state.

Since 2004, he has ardently argued and fought to get legalized sports betting in New Jersey.

He is currently involved in the court case possibly headed to the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Unlike Whelan, Lesniak has tried to expand gambling to North Jersey. He helped champion last November’s ballot referendum on casino expansion. The constituents voted against the proposal in record-setting numbers.

Lesniak helped to bring online poker and NJ online casino games to the state. He also lobbied to share liquidity with other states with regulated online gambling.

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Lesniak’s future as Governor?

Lesniak has expressed interest in the governor’s office since 2015. This week he formally filed paperwork to run for office.

He is one of upwards of a dozen potential candidates in what is currently a very crowded race. To give you an idea how packed it is, former Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo has even talked about running for the position.

Lesniak will run as a Democrat.

The deadlines for major party candidates to file for candidacy is April 3. Independent candidates do not have to file until June 3.

Image credit: EQRoy /

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Jessica Welman

A graduate of USC and Indiana University, Jessica Welman has long been involved in the poker industry and online gambling. She has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and as the managing editor for

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