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Lesniak has been on the fence about running for the state’s highest office, but announced last week he would throw his hat in the ring.
“The final decision for me was I could not hold myself back,” Lesniak (D-Union) told NJ.com in an interview last Thursday. “The state of New Jersey needs fundamental reform and restructuring,” Lesniak added. “The state needs a fighter and I’m a fighter.”
Lesniak’s key opposition in the race will be sitting Lieutenant Governor, Republican Kim Guadagno, and Democrat Phil Murphy, who’s worn many hats in his career.
The well-financed Murphy is seen as the front runner, but Lesniak has the name recognition and reputation to emerge as the winner of what will likely be a hard-fought Democrat primary.
“This is an uphill battle,” Lesniak said of Murphy in his interview with NJ.com. “But I believe I have the support of people and the recent election has shown that you can go directly to the people and get support if you have the right message.”
Lesniak has been a key figure in New Jersey politics for nearly four decades, representing Union City in the state senate since 1983. Prior to becoming a state senator, Lesniak served in the Assembly from 1978-1983.
Lesniak is also one of the more outspoken politicians out there, cut from the same cloth as one of his main foils over the past eight years, current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Basically, if voters want to know where Lesniak stands on an issue all they have to do is ask him, especially when it comes to gambling issues.
Veteran New Jersey reporter John Brennan did just that, asking the recently announced gubernatorial candidate what a Lesniak administration would mean for gambling.
Here’s what Lesniak told Brennan:
“Pursue legal sports betting in Congress if we can’t win in court.
“Expand internet gambling internationally with international live poker tournament finals in AC.
“Take a shot at convincing the public that a specific North Jersey casino site with a redevelopment plan for Atlantic City will be beneficial to the state by creating jobs, bringing back revenue lost to New York and Pennsylvania and transforming AC to a tourist destination with casinos – rather than just a casino destination.
“Also, support the horse racing industry, racetracks and horse farms with purse supplements.”
If Lesniak is elected governor in November (unlike most states, New Jersey holds its gubernatorial race during odd-numbered off-years), gambling will be a hot topic throughout his tenure.
Furthermore, Lesniak isn’t the typical bombastic politician who simply talks a good game; he’s a man of action. Lesniak hasn’t just supported gambling efforts in New Jersey, he’s been the driving force behind most of the state’s recent efforts.
Lesniak is credited with spearheading NJ online gambling legalization through the state legislature, as well as being at the forefront of the state’s ongoing efforts to legalize sports betting.
Lesniak was very much in favor of PokerStars‘ entry into the New Jersey online gaming market, and fired a number of salvos at Gov. Christie, who Lesniak believed was holding up the company’s entry into the New Jersey market.
Also on the online gambling front, and as his comments to Brennan suggest, Lesniak has been lobbying for New Jersey to become an international hub of online gambling.
Lesniak envisions New Jersey not only forming international compacts with other countries to share liquidity, but for the state to act as a regulatory and server provider for other jurisdictions.
He is also a proponent of North Jersey casino expansion, which, despite its dismal failure on the 2016 ballot, will almost assuredly be an ongoing topic of debate over the next several years.