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May 21, 2019

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Ex-New Jersey governor to states: Fight U.S. control of sports bets

Chris Christie

Mel Evans / AP

In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, file photo, Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question from the media in Trenton, N.J.

NEW ORLEANS — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants lawmakers across the country to resist a bill that would give the federal government control over regulating sports betting.

The Republican said Friday at a conference of legislators that states have proven they can handle the job. Christie began a court battle against the major pro and college sports leagues that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court clearing the way for all states to choose whether or not to offer sports gambling.

Speaking Friday in New Orleans at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference, Christie also urged lawmakers to resist granting the leagues "integrity fees," which are essentially a slice of the action on sports bets, and said they should refuse demands to use official league data in sports betting.

To do so would be to "reward bad behavior" by the leagues, Christie said, referring to their lengthy opposition of New Jersey's court case seeking the right to offer legal sports betting.

Seven states currently offer sports gambling, and those who track the industry expect a total of 30 states to consider legislation to permit it this year.

"We do not need a federal solution to this problem," Christie said. "States have been regulating gambling for decades without incident."

He referred to a bill introduced last month by Democratic U.S. Sen Charles Schumer of New York and retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would give the federal government control of regulating sports betting as "a solution in search of a problem." That bill would have the U.S. Justice Department set minimum standards for states to offer sports betting. It does not explicitly provide the sports leagues the cut of gambling revenue they have been seeking, so-called "integrity fees," but does not prohibit them, either.

"We're going to reward the people who fought us for seven years with fees that are going to diminish your margins?" Christie asked the lawmakers. "They don't need it, and given their conduct over the last seven years, they don't deserve it."

The leagues support federal regulation of sports betting, saying it would be more efficient to have one set of rules than 50 individual ones. Spokesmen for the professional football, baseball, hockey and basketball leagues did not immediately respond to requests for comment following Christie's speech.

In interviews with The Associated Press before Christie spoke, lawmakers from Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana all opposed federal regulation of sports betting, saying they are better suited to regulate it in their own backyards.

"We know what we have in our states and what we can do," said Ohio Republican state Sen. William Coley II, chairman of the state legislators' group. "Legislators in Utah know what people in Utah want, lawmakers in New Jersey know what works best for them. We don't want federal oversight."

"Sports betting is new and we need to evaluate it and make the right adjustments. We already regulate all types of industries state by state," Democratic Indiana state Rep. Justin Moed said. "Multinational corporations adjust to state regulation, and so can the sports leagues."

One Republican state senator from Louisiana who supported federal regulation changed his mind after hearing Christie's speech.

"I can see a tremendous money grab from the feds on this," said Sen. Ronnie Johns.

Christie said the sports leagues need to change their approach toward gambling.

"The leagues should understand this better than anybody: When you lose, you lose," he said. "That 'L' is up there on the board."