Architect of US Legal Sports Betting Ray Lesniak Mulls Congressional Bid

Written by:
Thomas Somach
Published on:

The man most responsible for the proliferation of legal sports betting in America—former New Jersey state senator Raymond J. Lesniak—may be looking for a new career.

As a U.S. congressman!

Lesniak, 76, served in the New Jersey General Assembly, the state legislature’s lower house, from 1978 to 1983, and then was a state senator from 1983 until 2018.

About 10 years ago, he began an effort to get sports betting legalized in New Jersey, and after a series of court cases and appeals that ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, he succeeded in 2017.

Legal sports wagering then spread to dozens of other states, Lesniak wrote a book about the court battles called “Beating the Odds” and in 2020, he was inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.

Since leaving the State Senate five years ago, he’s been relatively quiet politically.

But a recent report in the New Jersey media suggested he may be readying for a political comeback, eyeing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for 2024.

Gambling 911 just reached out to Lesniak, and in an exclusive interview, the pol/author/Hall of Famer discussed his future plans.

Here is a transcript of that interview:

Gambling 911: It has been reported that you are thinking of running for Congress in 2024. When do you expect to make a final decision on this?

Ray Lesniak: I’ll be meeting this month with community leaders who advocate for the issues that shaped my political career and life and which I championed in the New Jersey Legislature—environmental protection, social justice, LGBTQ rights, animal welfare, gun control, economic development and job creation.

G9: You had a long career in the New Jersey State Senate and have been retired from politics for five years. Why do you want to run for U.S. Congress now?

RL: I recently returned from a trip to Poland to visit and bring toys, clothing and iPads to orphans who were moved from Eastern Ukraine for their safety. My grandparents were born in Godova, Poland near the Ukraine border. I’m well aware of the dangers to the United States and Europe of Russian aggression. The plight of the orphans and of the people of Ukraine got me to thinking about running for Congress to present a stronger voice on their behalf and to combat the shortsighted, selfish movement by many Republicans to end our support for Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s invasion.

G9: If you do run, what will be the key issues you will campaign on? And will any of the issues be gambling-related?

RL: I’ve done what needed to get done to bring legalized sports betting and Internet gaming to America. It’s now up to individual states to take advantage of the job creation, economic development and revenue generated by my 12-year fight for legal sports betting and my legislation authorizing Internet gaming. My federal concern is oversight of TV gambling promotions by some providers’ zest for profit over concern for encouraging problem gambling.

G9: You are 76 years old and If you run and win, you would be 78 when you took office. What do you say to people who say you’re too old to run for office?

RL: I could do anything you can do, only I can do it better.

G9: You are considering a run in New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District, but you don’t currently live in that district. How do you get around that? Would you have to move?

RL: I’ll look for a home in the district after November’s election. I’ve represented Linden and Rahway, which are in the Congressional district, and there are many wonderful towns throughout it that I know very well.

G9: If elected, what are some possible bills you would like to sponsor? What issues would you like to legislate?

RL: My number one priority would be to restore the property tax deduction on federal income tax that President Trump and the Republican Congress imposed on New Jersey homeowners. Likewise, I would fight for more return on the taxes we pay to the federal government. Equally important is protecting a women’s right to choose by a federal statute codifying Roe v. Wade.


I litigated a landmark New Jersey right to choose decision, Ponter v. Ponter, in 1975, which expanded on Roe and gave a woman the right to choose all medical decisions over her body, including sterilization. Equally important is a federal law protecting same-sex marriage. Senator Weinberg and I championed marriage equality when it wasn’t popular and received only 14 of 40 votes in the Senate.

I don’t shy away from fighting uphill battles for social justice. As New Jersey State Democratic Chair, I lead the fight to stop the Republican-controlled legislature from overturning Governor Florio’s veto of its legislation to repeal New Jersey’s ban on assault weapons. In Congress I will fight for a national assault weapon ban, universal background checks and red flag laws that prevent individuals who have demonstrated to be a danger to themselves or others from buying or possessing a gun. Eighty percent of crimes with a gun in New Jersey were committed with guns from states with weak gun control laws. Republican support for the NRA endangers the safety of New Jersey residents.

I will be a loud voice opposing Republican efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare and will lead Democratic efforts to cut the costs of prescription drugs.

The recent train wrecks in Ohio brought to the forefront the need to regulate safety in the movement of hazardous materials, unlike Republican efforts to reduce regulatory requirements. I wasn’t afraid to take on the entrenched mob in New Jersey which controlled the garbage industry. I drove it out of the industry with a strict licensing law. Yes, Republicans, regulations are often necessary to protect the public.

In the New Jersey Senate I was a champion of animal welfare, sponsoring laws protecting elephants from cruelty and extinction by banning ivory transactions, banning the use of wild animals in circuses and curbing trophy hunting by banning imports of trophies of endangered species. I banned the transport of horses for slaughter and banned the cruel practice of shark finning.

I sponsored legislation banning use of the cruel gestation crates which keep pregnant sows in tight cages most of their lives and banning the sale of dogs and cats from mass-produced puppy mills. In Congress I would join the Animal Protection Caucus and support bills that would prohibit horse slaughters as I did in New Jersey, ban shark finning as I did in New Jersey, ban the abusive equine soring practice and strengthen enforcement against wildlife trafficking.

G9: One of your greatest accomplishments is getting sports betting legalized in New Jersey. You faced insurmountable odds and got it done. How do you think this experience will help you in the day-to-day grind of serving in Congress?

RL: I have no fear. No mountain is too high to climb and I know how to get things done, something that’s sorely missing in Congress.

G9: Finally, what is your position on the legalization of marijuana?

RL: On marijuana, I supported its legalization in New Jersey after much thought. I founded The Lesniak Experience Strength Hope Recovery High School for students with substance use disorders and had concerns over its legalization, but realized many states were about to legalize it and our ban would only expand its illegal sale. Therefore, I would also support a federal repeal of its criminal laws on marijuana.

By Tom Somach

Gambling 911 Chief Correspondent

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