ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — When it comes to sports betting, many New Jerseyans want Gov. Chris Christie to go for it.
A new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released Tuesday shows 45 percent of respondents favor allowing sports betting at casinos and horse tracks even if the federal government forbids it. 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. That's up from the 53 percent who felt that way a year ago.
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 league's 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 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.
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 (52 percent) were more likely to support such a move, compared to Democrats (42 percent) and Independents (40 percent.)
Casino gamblers are also more likely to support such a move; 53 percent of those who had been to a casino or slots parlor within the past 12 months support defying the federal ban, compared to 41 percent who hadn't been to a casino.
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.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC