Senator Ray Lesniak to Run for New Jersey Governor

Posted on: January 6, 2017, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: January 6, 2017, 12:27h.

New Jersey Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union), a longtime champion of gambling in the Garden State, is to run for governor, and that could be good news for its chances on legalizing sports betting.

“The final decision for me was I could not hold myself back,” Lesniak told shortly after filing the official papers, Thursday.

“The state of New Jersey needs fundamental reform and restructuring,” he added. “The state needs a fighter and I’m a fighter.”

Lesniak to run for governor of New Jersey
Senator Raymond Lesniak filed the papers to run for governor on Thursday, which could bode well for New Jersey’s legal fight to offer sports betting within its borders. (Image:

Lensiak’s scrapping credentials are not in doubt. With 30 years of service to the New Jersey Senate, he was the driving force behind the repeal of the death penalty in the eighties and spearheaded a host of landmark environmental campaigns, battling pollution in the heavily industrialized state. He has also been vocal in support of gay marriage and animal rights.

On the gambling front, he was the main sponsor of the bill that, in 2013, legalized and regulated online gambling in New Jersey, and he has been a standard bearer in the battle to legalize sports betting.

Sports Betting Battle

Should Lesniak succeed Chris Christie as governor, New Jersey would likely become even more pugnacious in its quest to repeal PASPA, the federal legislation that prohibits sports betting in all but a handful of US states.

While Christie has vowed to fight the legal fight, it should be noted that he was against sports betting early in his tenure, and he also initially vetoed New Jersey’s online gambling bill. If he is a champion for gambling, he is a reluctant one, unlike Lesniak.

In August, a Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that New Jersey’s plan to partially repeal the ban on sports betting, by simply choosing not to enforce the law at casinos and racetracks, amounted to the same as authorizing sports betting.

New Jersey is currently petitioning the US Supreme Court, which it hopes to convince that PASPA is a violation of its constitutional rights under the Tenth Amendment.

Finger on the Button

But since a partial repeal amounts to authorization in the eyes of the law, it’s believed that a full repeal, which would permit sports betting everywhere, and not just at casinos and racecourses, could actually have more success in the courts. It’s being called New Jersey’s “nuclear option” and, who knows, Lesniak might be prepared to push the button.

But first he needs to win the nomination of his party, and after that, an election. While the next governor of New Jersey is expected to be a Democrat, Lesniak is not the favorite to win the Democrat nomination; that would be former US ambassador to Germany, Phil Murphy.

“He has a clear advantage, there’s no doubt about that,” Lesniak said of Murphy.

“This is an uphill battle. But I believe I have the support of people and the recent election has shown that you can go directly to the people and get support if you have the right message.”