WASHINGTON — A 34-year-old New Jersey man beat odds of more than 32,000-to-1 last month when he correctly picked the winners of 15 National Football League games against the point spread on a $5 wager. He collected $100,000.
He couldn't place such a bet legally in New Jersey, but he could by using the Delaware lottery. Delaware is currently the only state outside Nevada that sanctions betting on the outcome of NFL games. It has a football gambling venture called the $100,000 Parlay Card, which it introduced in 2009. Nobody had hit the jackpot on it until now.
With revenue still far below pre-recession levels and demand for services still high, states around the country are looking to tap into the billions of dollars in play with the popularity of Super Bowl wagers and March Madness pools. One of the new entrants may be New Jersey. Voters there will go to the polls Tuesday and consider a ballot measure to legalize sports betting.
Gambling revenue plays a "consistently significant, if relatively small, role in state budgets," Lucy Dadayan of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government wrote in the latest report on gambling revenues. Dadayan found that, on average, gambling money represented 2.4 percent of revenue for states in 2009. But the percentage is much higher for some states. Nevada's 12.5 percent is the highest in the country; Delaware takes in double the national average at 4.9 percent. New Jersey, without sports betting but with a clutch of Atlantic City casinos, gets 3.5 percent.
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Even if New Jersey voters approve the ballot measure this week in hopes of bringing in more revenue, it may be a while before gamblers will be able to bet on NFL games in casinos or the state's racetracks, as they can in Nevada. That's because a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, prohibits sports betting except in four states that were grandfathered in because they already had sports wagering programs: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
Nevada residents don't even have to go into a casino to bet on sports: They can do it from their smartphones.
As in previous economic downturns, states have been looking to expand gambling in a variety of ways to patch holes in their budgets. Some 10 states went that route in fiscal 2010, including Pennsylvania, which added poker and table games at casinos.
This year, lawmakers in Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts have debated whether to build new destination casinos in major cities, such as Chicago and Miami.