Chris Christie on Fight for NJ’s Legalized Sports Betting
The expansion of legal sports betting in the United States and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s role in it are absent from the 384 pages of his first book.
Not because the endeavor – validated by a May, 2018, Supreme Court decision – was unworthy, Christie told Gambling.com. “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics,” was too far into production when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act’s demise unleashed a burgeoning New Jersey marketplace and allowed the advent of legal sports betting in, so far, nine states.
For the next book – and Christie hopes there will be one – sports betting is definitely worthy of consideration, he said. It was that important of an accomplishment.
In a wide-ranging interview with Gambling.com, the often-controversial two-term governor, former Republican presidential candidate and generously opinionated political analyst offered insights on how legal sports betting both in New Jersey and nationally has performed so far and what it can become.
How Far New Jersey Has Come
Gambling.com: A few months after the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the PASPA how has the New Jersey market developed in comparison with your expectations?
Chris Christie: First off, to have the month of May of this year, have New Jersey pass Nevada in terms of the revenue wagered is pretty amazing, that inside a year we passed Nevada, who's been at this for a long time. So, I think that's the first thing that's really interesting.
It's gone even better than I thought, but I think a lot of that's because of the statutory and regulatory scheme that we set up. We have low barriers to entry in terms of fees and for the online feature. And I think you see that the online feature is really important.
I mean, I think over 80 percent of the money wagered has come online. So I think those two things, the first being that we have low barriers to entering in terms of getting in, and second that we have a robust online option that also protects our brick-and-mortar casinos because they have to be partnered with an existing casino owner, license-owner, I think it's really led to New Jersey having the model that the rest of the country should follow.
I think the success we've shown is the proof of that.
Gambling.com: When New York implements sports betting and Pennsylvania takes advantage of its population, do you think that New Jersey can maintain that status of an East Coast Las Vegas?
Christie: Pennsylvania's already in and not really being much of a factor. I think New York obviously will change the equation a bit and whether or not New Jersey can stay ahead of Nevada. After New York ultimately puts (sports betting) in, I think is going to be something that needs to be seen.
I'm not sure, but clearly, some portion of the business that we're receiving ... I know this anecdotally, that there are people that literally drive over one of the bridges or through one of the tunnels, sits there in a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike, make their bets on their mobile device and then drive back.
So, there's no doubt that there'll be some of that. And there's also some people who want the experience in New York of being in a sportsbook, who have made the FanDuel operation at the Meadowlands very successful. And some of that will definitely be cut back, but ... people also get comfortable with a certain way of doing things and that's going to be the balance, their comfort with the way the systems operate and all the rest.
And you don't know what New York will do in terms of accessibility, because some states have made it very difficult for the online folks who would be in the market. And I do think that that's one of the real keys to real enhanced revenue, is allowing the online folks to operate fairly freely in your state.
Because that's the easiest way for millennials like my 25-year-old son, who lives in New York City. He and his friends take the PATH over to Hoboken, they go to one of the really great bars and watch whatever they're watching and do their betting. They have no interest in going to a casino or to a sportsbook. Their life is on their phone.
So it depends, I think, too, when New York gets in the game, do they get in the game in a way like we did with our plan and (New Jersey director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement David) Rebuck's execution, which is to make it really easy and accessible for the online folks, or do they make it more difficult?
I mean, Illinois just passed it and as you probably know, put an 18-month moratorium on the online stuff. I mean, I just think that's just the wrong way to do it.
Profit Coming to NJ From Out of State
Gambling.com: Have New York and Pennsylvania - with its labored online rollout - just assured that out-of-state dollars will continue flowing into New Jersey?
Christie: No doubt. And if you look at some of the geo-location findings that we have in New Jersey, when you look at it on a Saturday or Sunday morning in college and pro football season, it's lit up red on the other side of the Delaware River, on the other side of the Walt Whitman Bridge, of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
And remember, Pennsylvania also put huge barriers to entry in terms of their fees, enormous barriers to entry and not recognizing, as New Jersey did, that this is not a high-margin business, right?
So, if you charge huge licensing fees, and huge taxes, folks on the casino/online side are just not going to put the money into your state that they otherwise would for advertising and the build-out capability because it won't be profitable.
Gambling.com: What’s your level of continued advocacy for the legal sports betting industry?
Christie: I continue to advocate for anybody who asks me to do so in this space because, obviously, I invested a great deal of time and energy and risk in pursuing this over, all the time we did. So, I'll continue to advocate.
I went to the (American) Gaming Association meeting and gave a speech there that I think was really well-received. I went out and met with the state legislatures of the gaming states. They have an association and I talked with them about the New Jersey model and what I'm really advocating for as we go across is the way New Jersey has done this.
I think that the results that New Jersey has shown in their first year in the business, both from a profitability perspective and from a regulatory perspective, you've seen maybe two or three instances of problems that were dealt with directly by Rebuck. One was taking a bet on a New Jersey college game, which was prohibited. Another one was FanDuel printing an incorrect ticket but being forced by the regulators to pay out on the incorrect ticket.
I mean, other than that, you have not seen any regulatory problems or issues with the opening of this really big new venture. And I think that's because our regulators do a really good job and the rules were very clearly stated and folks know that they have to abide by those rules or the Division of Gaming Enforcement will be on them.
Gambling.com: What was it – and maybe it's as obvious as there were casinos there and there was a gambling culture – about the pre-existing landscape in New Jersey that made it amenable to the public?
Christie: Well, listen, I think that the New York, Philadelphia metropolitan areas have rabid sports fans. I think that's recognized all across the country, that we have in New York in particular, two NBA teams, three NHL teams in the area, two NFL teams and two Major League Baseball teams. In the major sports there's an enormous fan base there in New York and in Philly they cover all the major sports as well with one team each.
But again, a rabid fan base and that extends into South Jersey. So, I think the first thing that existed was a huge interest in sports. And when you look at the attendance figures of the different teams, they are often among the leaders in their leagues in attendance. So, clearly an interest.
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Secondly, gaming had been in New Jersey since 1977. So, for over 40 years, there was a confidence that this can be done. This was not a moral issue in New Jersey or even a difficult political issue. It was one where people understood that gaming could be advantageous for the state and that it seemed ridiculous to lots of people that we had table games all throughout Atlantic City but couldn't have betting on sports.
So, I think there was also a culture in the state that understood it and was comfortable with having gaming. I think those are the two biggest things: a very rabid active and large fan base in both metropolitan areas, and then also a culture inside the state that was not afraid of expanding gaming in terms of the type of things that you could bet on.
Gambling.com: What’s the chronology of how sports betting as a movement first hit your radar and grew to be something that you invested a lot of time in and eventually helped to push across the line?
Christie: When I got into the governorship in January of 2010, you remember, we were in an awful economic time and Atlantic City was really being pounded. And so my initial interest in it was to try to give Atlantic City something that the other gaming surrounding us didn't have.
And so that was what motivated my initial interest. The legislature passed a bill initially that I thought was really bad and so I conditionally vetoed it and sent it back with suggestions on how to change it and ultimately came to an agreement with the legislature and how to change it.
So, my initial instinct was purely based on trying to diversify Atlantic City's offerings to try stem some of the bleeding that was going on down there because of the overall bad economy that had hit the country, in our state in particular.
Once I actually sat down when the leagues sued us, and we hired Ted Olson to represent us, and I sat down with Ted and started to really discuss the legal arguments and underpinnings, then I became completely convinced that not only were we right from an economic development perspective, but we were right from a legal perspective. And once I was firm on both of those, then I was not going to quit. And that's kind of the evolution of it.
We took seven defeats before we finally won in the Supreme Court and spent millions of dollars on legal fees. But I always felt, and Ted Olson always felt, that we were right on the law and that if we got in front of the right forum, that we could win.
And ultimately, it was the Supreme Court the second time around that that was the right forum for us. So that was my evolution. It was purely based on trying to help Atlantic City initially. But then, once I was convinced we were right on the law as a states rights issue, then I became even more resolved to follow it all the way through to the conclusion.
Gambling.com: Do you think the state of New Jersey and the state horsemen’s association have a case in trying to recoup legal fees from the major professional leagues and NCAA for its legal fees?
Christie: I think it's a novel theory. And I think that the horsemen and the state have every right to push this theory. I don't know whether or not that's going to remain consistent with the way our legal system works, which usually is not like European systems where loser pays and really makes everybody responsible for (their) own legal fees.
But I certainly have no objection to them trying because quite frankly, we could have resolved this problem years ago with the leagues, if they had been willing to compromise at all and at the least, probably, would have wound up with a bigger piece of the revenue than they're now getting, which is none for the most part, unless they can make separate side deals with the individual private companies that are engaged in the business.
We probably would have been open to issues like integrity fee and data fees being part of the statute if they hadn't fought us for seven years and had us spend all this money. So, I do think there's some arguments about what the leagues are doing now versus their position earlier.
But we'll see what the courts do. I don't know that area of the law that great. What I do know about it would make me pessimistic, but I'm hopeful for both the horseman and state that they can recover some of what they've already spent.
Christie on Integrity Fees and Official Data
Gambling.com: Do you think pro leagues asking for mandates on official data or fees from sportsbooks is ultimately a losing proposition?
Christie: Yeah. I think eventually that is the way it'll happen. Now, there are other ways that the leagues can get involved and they have in partnerships. You see the MGM partnership and there's been a lot of ways that they can get involved. My point has always been that that's not something that should be required by law, but something that should be the product of arms-length business negotiations between the folks who are operating the gaming and the folks in the leagues.
Listen, if an operator feels like they can benefit from that intellectual property and are willing to pay for it, I don't object. What I object to is the government mandating them having to do that.
And I think there's a big difference there. And I think states should stay away from the mandating and just say, listen, ‘You're free to enter into business arrangements that you think are advantageous to you, but we're not going to require you to do it.'
How Did Christie Celebrate PASPA Repeal?
Gambling.com: Where were you on May 14, 2018 when news broke of the PASPA repeal?
Christie: I was in my office in Morristown, New Jersey and got a telephone call from Ted Olson telling me that we had won. And that's, that's how I found out. And it was great to be able to share that moment with Ted over the telephone.
We had been kind of Don Quixotes on this thing believing all along that we were right on the law, that we can win. And there were a lot of skeptical folks.
And so, to be able to get that call from Ted letting me know that we had won was a really, really great moment. I was anticipating it based upon the oral arguments, which I thought, having been there in December of ‘17, had gone extraordinarily well for us.
You can't always tell from oral arguments at the Supreme Court, but I felt pretty confident that we had at least five votes up there and maybe six or seven. And that's what it turned out to be. So, I was anticipating the win, but when you hear it, that's where I was sitting in my office in Morristown and my phone rang and it was Ted Olson and he had great news.
Gambling.com: Did you fist bump or find a football to spike, take the rest of the day off?
Christie: I got on the phone and started calling a bunch of the people who had been really supportive of the effort over time and had verbal fist bumps over the phone with my former attorney generals who had been involved in continuing to keep it going, and my lieutenant governor who had been really supportive of it. And so I called all of them to make sure they knew, and we all just kind of celebrated over the phone together.
What is Next for Chris Christie?
Gambling.com: You’ve been a U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, governor, presidential candidate, analyst, author … now what?
Christie: I'm doing a few things. As you mentioned, I'm doing commentary for ABC. I'm on four different corporate boards and serving in that capacity. I have a consulting business where I consult on crisis management and crisis communication. I wrote the book as you said as well. And I do some paid public speaking. All those things are keeping me pretty busy, which is good and fun.
And then we'll see. In terms of public life, who knows what may happen. I'm only 56, and so I haven't quite yet given up on getting back involved with public life, but only do it if it's something that I really feel like I can make a difference and that I'm really interested in. So right now, I've got two more kids to put through college, so we're chopping a little wood, making a little money.
Gambling.com: There were no references to the legalization of sports betting saga in “Let Me Finish.” Will there be a subsequent offering detailing this chapter of your career?
Christie: There very well may be. I'm in discussions with a couple of publishers about a second book because the first book did very well and was a New York Times best-seller for three weeks. So, there's interest in another book and I think if there is another book, there'll be a lot about sports betting in there. (When) I was actually writing the book, the (Supreme Court) decision had not come yet and most of the book was finished by the time that decision came in.
So I think that next time, a next book, you'll definitely see some stuff in there about the saga of pursuing this and then we'll be able to look back with some real clarity about what it's been for the state, and what it's meant for the country. Because you see the expansion all across the country and none of that would have happened if we hadn't pursued what we pursued all the way up to the Supreme Court.
When I travel to other states, I've met with legislators and some governors, some of whom are colleagues and some who are new since I left, to talk to them about how we did what we did and the New Jersey model.
I always will continue to be involved in it. I spent too much time in my governorship on this to completely walk away from it.
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