New Jersey: proposal submitted to allow betting on college competitions

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen/Passaic) is attempting to close a loophole in New Jersey’s sports betting regulations with a bill to allow wagering on in-state colleges or college competitions he submitted Monday.

Currently, in the state, there’s no betting on Rutgers, Seton Hall or other Jersey schools. No betting on college games played at the Meadowlands, Boardwalk Hall, or other Jersey facilities. Even hanging a line on Princeton-Penn in a Jersey sportsbook or app will be met with a fine by the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, in New Jersey, there is some competition in the mobile market, and the brick-and-mortar places upstate and in Atlantic City are decent, but the state has a problem with seemingly arbitrary limits and general tolerance for professional bettors, and they don’t allow wagering on in-state colleges or college competitions.

Sarlo is looking to change that and allow betting on NCAA-sanctioned tournaments following the announcement that the 2025 men’s NCAA basketball East Regionals will be held in Newark, N.J. But it will be an uphill climb with a piano on his back.

"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."

Because New Jersey’s sports betting laws are under the state constitution, a voter referendum is needed to make the changes Sarlo seeks. It’s a nice effort, but sports betting observers say it doesn’t go nearly far enough. There would still be a prohibition on betting on regular-season games. Rutgers football, for instance.

"If you’re going to go through the trouble of passing a resolution and having an issue of this magnitude to amend the state constitution, you should go all the way and completely remove the ban on in-state collegiate betting," said Daniel Wallach, an expert in sports betting law.

"More importantly, from a public policy perspective, the state is basically telling its citizens to go and bet these games in the illegal market or in other states. This has stood, in the last three years, an exception to their record of perfection in the rollout of sports betting. It’s the only thing that prevents that state from having an A-plus for how they’ve handled sports betting."

Sarlo’s office did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday, but he at least cast the first stone. There is no restriction in Pennsylvania against collegiate betting.

New Jersey was at the forefront of the fight to end Nevada’s monopoly on traditional sports betting, and the in-state collegiate provision was included in their 2011 bill to make sports betting more appealing to reluctant politicians and residents. It was signed into state law the following year. The federal law overturning Nevada’s dominance toppled in 2018.

Wallach and others will point out that many collegiate sports betting scandals have been uncovered by regulated sportsbooks who have noticed unusual patterns in wagering. One provision some states have adapted to mitigate shady behavior is to restrict individual player and team props on collegiate events.

"I think New Jersey has always had a case of post-purchase dissonance over this in-state collegiate betting ban," said Wallach, a co-founder of the University of New Hampshire’s school of law sports wagering & integrity program. "It seems to me the measure would have passed, at least on the public level, with or without an in-state betting ban."