ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Many New Jerseyans say the state should offer legal sports betting, regardless of whether the federal government bans it.
A new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released Tuesday shows 45 percent of respondents favor allowing sports betting at casinos and horse tracks despite a federal law making it illegal in New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie said earlier this year that's what he plans to do.
The poll found 38 percent opposed to that approach.
When the question of a federal ban was eliminated, 58 percent of respondents said New Jersey should allow sports betting. A year ago, 53 percent of respondents felt that way.
The NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues are suing New Jersey to block the plan, saying it threatens the "character and integrity" of sporting events.
"Although support is not overwhelming, these numbers suggest the public is cautiously behind the goal of moving forward with legalized sports betting," said Krista Jenkins, executive director of the poll and a professor of political science.
At an appearance in Atlantic City in May, Christie said he planned to defy a federal ban on sports betting and let people bet on the outcomes of football, basketball and other games, possibly as soon as this fall.
Christie said he planned no attempt to overturn a 1992 federal law that limits sports betting to four states, all but daring the leagues or the federal government to try to stop him.
That's what the NCAA, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball League and the National Hockey League did earlier this month. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Trenton, the leagues called New Jersey's proposal to allow sports betting a "clear and flagrant violation" of the 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
That law restricts betting on collegiate and professional games to four states who met a deadline to legalize sports betting: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. New Jersey was given a chance to become the fifth state, but declined to act during a yearlong window.
The leagues' lawsuit gives New Jersey the legal forum it had been seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it treats different states unequally. Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, declined to comment on the poll.
Christie signed a law in January to allow sports betting at New Jersey's 12 casinos and four racetracks. New Jersey voters said by a 2-to-1 margin in a November 2011 referendum they support legalizing sports betting.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who has been trying to legalize sports betting for several years, was not surprised by the poll results.
"Since a strong majority of New Jerseyans supported the sports betting referendum I sponsored last November, I expect that support to continue throughout our fight to overturn the federal ban," he said.
Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport has said it plans to offer sports betting this fall, but many of the casinos are wary of investing in an operation that could be shut down by the federal government, preferring to wait until the legal wrangling is resolved.
The poll shows 53 percent of men favor moving forward with sports betting even without the repeal of the federal ban, while 38 percent of women did.
Republicans were more likely than Democrats and independents to support such a move. Casino gamblers also were more likely than those who don't go to casinos to support it, according to the poll.
The statewide telephone poll of 945 registered and unregistered voters was done from July 23 through July 29, shortly before the sports leagues filed their lawsuit. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.