New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak reintroduced legislation Thursday to make New Jersey the first state to legalize online gambling.
His original Internet gambling bill passed through both houses of state government earlier this year only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in March.
The day of the veto, Lesniak told PokerNews that he would not reintroduce the bill unless he reached an agreement with Christie that would guarantee the bill would not be vetoed again. No such compromise has been reached.
Lesniak said Wednesday that he is introducing the bill anyway because the horse-racing industry in New Jersey may die in the next couple of years without the revenue it could get subsidized from online gambling. The timing of the reintroduction coincides with the announcement last week that Perretti Farms, the largest breeder of standardbred horses in the Garden State, will be closing down. Horse farms are a large part of the economy in central New Jersey.
"Nothing has changed in terms of (Christie’s) opinion as of yet," Lesniak told PokerNews in a phone interview. "I’m hoping that the governor will realize what is happening to the (horse-racing) industry by him not supporting any subsidies online gaming can provide. I’m hoping the governor will reassess his position, and that Republican representatives from that area will help him change his mind. I think the opportunity is here to get together and change his view."
Lesniak said the bill, S-3019, will largely be what he previously put on Christie’s desk. The biggest change, in an effort to address one of the concerns Christie mentioned in his veto, will be language to prevent Internet gambling cafes from popping up across the state. Lesniak said he didn’t think that was a realistic expectation, given that people could play online from their homes if the bill went through, but that it was an easy fix to make. Lesniak’s bill includes casino games in addition to poker.
It seems unlikely that the modifications will be enough to change Christie’s mind on the bill, but perhaps pressure from Republican representatives in central New Jersey with concerns about the future of the state’s horse-racing industry can make an impact.
"It’s not going to be a long road, but we’re just not sure where it leads," Lesniak said. "We’ll put the bill back on his desk before the end of the year, and hopefully by that time we’ll have changed his mind."
Lesniak is also irked by indications that potential federal legislation, if it comes from House Majority Leader Harry Reid, would favor Reid’s home state of Nevada. Last month, Lesniak wrote a letter to Att. General Eric Holder contesting a letter written to Holder by Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) asking that he reiterate the Justice Department’s stance that intrastate online gaming is illegal under federal law.
Out of all the intrastate bills introduced by states in the country, New Jersey’s bill was the only one that seemed like it would create a system beneficial to poker players. After Black Friday, there are undoubtedly more people in New Jersey who would value a safe and secure platform on which to play online poker.
"There’s a big concern that New Jersey would be left behind in federal legislation," Lesniak said. "If New Jersey starts operations first, it would be very difficult for them to exclude us or diminish our role."
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