It’s almost as if Phil Murphy were trying to write the textbook on how not to be a first-year governor.
At the end of the week, Murphy had a perfect opportunity for a photo op at Monmouth Park Racetrack, which is a mere 4 miles from his house as the crow flies – or the racehorse runs.
The picture would have shown the governor doing a grip-and-grin with the racetrack officials as they celebrated the opening of a sports-betting operation that would stimulate the local economy and provide some much-needed tax revenue for that budget he needs to get passed in the next three weeks.
Murphy could have thanked all the people who helped New Jersey win a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that will permit the state to provide a badly needed source of year-round revenue to the racetracks and the Atlantic City casinos.
All he had to do was sign the bill that passed both houses of the Legislature Thursday unanimously.
How could a first-year governor mess that up?
In textbook fashion, that’s how.
First, daftar poker Murphy said through his staff that he would have to have his counsel look at the bill, even though they already knew what was in it.
Then the administration reinserted into the discussion a “poison pill” that the Legislature had just taken out.
That was a proviso that any track or casino that started accepting bets before the bill was enacted would forfeit the chance to get a gambling license once the bill was signed.
Senate President Steve Sweeney had inserted that pill into the bill a couple weeks earlier, after that Supreme Court decision was announced.
The sports leagues had gotten an injunction preventing the tracks and casinos from opening sports betting operations. Once the court removed the injunction, Monmouth Park was free to start collecting sports bets.
That was the plan of Dennis Drazin, who runs the track.
But Sweeney wanted a couple weeks to write legislation taxing and regulating sports betting, so he inserted a proviso inserting the pill. He was counting on passing the bill in a couple of weeks.
But he didn’t count on Murphy. Early in the week, there were rumblings to the effect that the governor would hold up the bill as leverage to help him in the budget fight. That might have meant sports betting couldn’t begin until perhaps July.
So out came the pill on Thursday when the bill passed. That meant Monmouth could start taking bets as soon as Friday regardless of whether Murphy signed the bill.
“We hopes he does,” said Sweeney after the session Thursday. “On the constitutional question, the Supreme Court ruled. He really can go tomorrow if he wants. That’s his call.”
Well, it was his call – until that the poison pill was inserted back in by the state Racing Commission. On Friday, Drazin got a letter from commission executive director Frank Zanzuccki threatening the track owners with loss of sports betting licenses if they violated the law by starting betting before the bill is signed.