© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk outside the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk outside the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City

By Hilary Russ

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s legislature unanimously passed a bill on Thursday to regulate and tax sports betting at casinos and racetracks, which would make it one of the first states to legalize the activity following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month.

The legislation now goes to Governor Phil Murphy, who would have to sign it before operators could start taking sports wagers. He is not expected to sign it this week, according to his office.

The bill contains none of the fraud-fighting measures requested by professional sports leagues, including real-time game data sharing with casinos and state regulators, as well as fees to the leagues to help pay for expanded monitoring and investigations.

New Jersey and other states are racing for a piece of the estimated $150 billion spent on illegal annual wagers in the United States, after the top court in May overturned a 1992 law that had banned sports wagering except in a few places, including Las Vegas.

More Americans now than ever, 69 percent, say gambling is morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll released on Thursday.

Delaware, which already had limited sports wagers, rolled out full-scale betting on Tuesday.

In New Jersey, the U.S. unit of UK-based William Hill PLC has for years been preparing sports books at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

In the state’s fiscally stressed gambling hub Atlantic City, William Hill also plans to operate a 7,500-square-foot, $6 million sports betting area at the twice-bankrupt former Revel Casino Hotel, which is now called the Ocean Resort Casino and is set to open later in June.

London-listed gambling companies, facing tighter regulations and higher taxes in their home markets, are likely to seek expansion across the Atlantic, especially as sports betting is set to grow in the United States.

The Dublin-based bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair agreed in May, after the U.S. high-court’s ruling, to merge its U.S. business with fantasy sports giant FanDuel.

New Jersey itself is expected to pull in between $12 million and $17 million in the first full year of operation, according to legislative estimates.

That would be a tiny drop in the bucket for New Jersey’s proposed $37.4 billion budget for fiscal 2019, which is still being finalized.

The projection is based on an assumption that 28 percent of the state’s population will bet on sports and on the 8.5 percent tax rate on gross revenues from in-person wagering.

The state can also impose a 13 percent tax on internet sports bets, which could begin 30 days after the law goes into effect.

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