Opinion: On online gambling, follow New Jersey

Chris Christie

When I was the governor of New Jersey in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we had a depressed tourism market in our gaming hub — Atlantic City — that had been left for dead. In addition to taking over a dysfunctional municipal government, I knew the problem could be improved with a new option: sports betting.

What the gambling industry calls “igaming” is legal in a handful of states, such as Nevada and New Jersey, and other states including Michigan are considering doing the same.

We passed a law in 2012 authorizing sports betting. The NCAA and the four major sports leagues challenged our legislation, so we passed a new law. They challenged us again, so we took our case to the United States Supreme Court, and we won. Now every state in the country has the opportunity to authorize legalized betting on sports.

Since New Jersey became the first new state to authorize sports betting, more than a half-dozen states followed our lead. And while other states had their heads in the right place, the manner in which they authorized sports betting has led to less than expected results.

Chris Christie

Now, as Michigan and other states weigh legalizing sports betting, they would be wise to replicate the example we’ve set in New Jersey

What’s to account for our success in New Jersey? New Jersey is the only state with full mobile access for sports fans and a robust competitive marketplace for gaming operators.

We allow customers to conveniently register to bet on their phones and bet from anywhere in the state because we are aware of a simple reality: people do everything on their phones these days. To not allow fans to bet on their phone is to encourage them to participate in the thriving illegal market, which is nearly all online. To not allow people to bet on their phone is to say, “It’s OK, we don’t want your business.”

A full 80 percent of the betting in New Jersey’s thriving market is now bet via mobile. People are betting online because we have not attached anachronistic strings, like requiring them to first go to a brick-and-mortar casino for in-person registration. That’s ridiculous. The goal here is to entice customers, not repel them. Mobile allows customers to conduct all transactions online, as they are used to in other industries.

On the second point, we fostered a competitive marketplace in order to create the best products and drive competition for customers. Competition breeds innovation and investment, and as a result of us setting up a process that vigorously vetted companies, but allowed for large number of operators to compete, we now have easy-to-use apps designed by multiple companies that are attracting billions of dollars in wagers. Those companies are spending massive ad dollars in New Jersey and partnering with local businesses in the race for market share and their competition is driving success in the betting market and having a secondary impact on our economy as well.

As the states who are struggling with sports betting are realizing now – full, unrestricted mobile and a competitive market are critical because states are taking on an estimated $150 billion illegal market. For years, offshore betting companies have provided for mobile betting with zero transparency and zero tax revenue for states.

If states want to stand a chance at persuading those bettors and new, prospective bettors to participate in a legal, regulated market, they need to make it as easy as possible.

Some have argued internet sports betting or other iGaming will harm a state’s lottery. False. We saw our state lottery revenue in New Jersey unmoved after authorizing iGaming for poker and other games and sports betting.

Today, one year since the Supreme Court ruled in our favor, New Jersey is the national leader in sports betting, and Atlantic City is thriving once again.

Michigan, I’m telling you: follow New Jersey’s lead.

Chris Christie is the 55th governor of New Jersey and a former United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey.