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Chris Christie signs bill to legalize sports betting in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks a during fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Thursday, July 17, 2014, in Davenport, Iowa.

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey is moving ahead with plans to permit betting on sports in the state, but legal challenges could stall the rollout.

Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed a bill passed this week in the Legislature that would partially repeal New Jersey's prohibition on sports wagering.

"As I've said all along, I am a strong proponent of legalized sports wagering in New Jersey," Christie said in a statement. "But given earlier decisions by federal courts, it was critical that we follow a correct and appropriate path to curtail new court challenges and expensive litigation. I believe we have found that path in this bipartisan legislative effort."

Professional sports leagues and the NCAA have gone to court to prevent New Jersey's racetracks and casinos from taking sports bets.

The leagues and the state attorney general are awaiting a Nov. 21 court date in U.S. District Court. The attorney general sought a clarification of a sports betting injunction. Christie said he believes the bill signed Friday adheres to federal law and responds to the issues raised in federal courts.

Christie last month ordered the attorney general to halt enforcement of sports betting laws at the state's racetracks and casinos. No tracks or casinos have started offering it yet.

Dennis Drazin, an adviser to Monmouth Park Racetrack, said the park plans to begin taking sports bets on Oct. 26 but expects the leagues to seek a further court injunction.

A spokesman for the NFL declined to comment. Messages left with the other leagues and the NCAA were not immediately returned.

State lawmakers applauded the new law.

"This will help clear away the legal obstacles and provide a clear path to finally bringing sports betting to New Jersey," Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak said in a statement. "And it couldn't happen at a more important time. It will be a lifeline to Atlantic City casinos and for the horse racing industry, creating jobs and economic opportunities that will serve the city and the state for years to come. Sports betting is now much closer to a reality in New Jersey."

Drazin said he expects the Oct. 26 date to be a "soft opening."

Lesniak tweeted, "Christie signed my sports betting legislation see you at Monmouth Racetrack Oct 26."