While we wait to see what happens with federal legislation, New Jersey is making another move to get an Internet gambling bill passed by the end of the year.
The bill was amended in the New Jersey assembly Monday. State sen. Raymond Lesniak, the bill’s leading sponsor, said the amendments were made to unify the casino industry behind the bill. He also indicated that he expected the bill to be voted on by the full assembly Dec. 17 and in the state senate Dec. 20.
Lesniak previously predicted the legislatures would pass the bill in March and then again in May. He said that this time is different because the casino industry is fully behind the proposal.
"This time there is no one lobbying against it and the need for it is even greater," Lesniak said. "The Atlantic City casinos continue to suffer from reduced revenue, and this will be the big boost that they desperately need."
Lesniak said the timing of the push has nothing to do with the possibility of federal legislation being passed during the lame-duck session, which he said is "not going to happen." The timing has everything to do with movement on a state-by-state basis and not wanting to let Nevada, which has licensed many companies for online poker and is projecting to get the first sites up and running within the state in the second quarter of 2013, get too far out ahead of New Jersey.
"We want to be in a position to market to other states to have interstate gaming go through our operation," Lesniak said. "We don’t want Nevada or any other state to have a competitive advantage."
Lesniak said he believes the bill is likely to pass in the assembly and sure to pass in the state senate. What he doesn’t know is what will happen once it gets on the governor’s desk.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed similar legislation from Lesniak last year. In May, Lesniak indicated that the delay in passing the bill was due to a lack of support from the governor and opposition from the horse racing industry. One of the amendments restored a maximum $60 million supplement to the horse racing industry, but takes the money from taxes paid to the state rather than in addition to the taxes, appeasing both the casinos and the racing industry.
Christie indicated in January that he had come around on the idea of allowing Atlantic City casinos to host online gambling websites, but he wavered in his support as the election approached.
"I do not know where he stands," Lesniak said. "He has not said anything one way or another, and I don’t expect him to until we put it on his desk."
Lesniak sees this as New Jersey’s last chance to get out in front of the competition and establish itself as the Silicon Valley of online gambling.
"In my opinion, it’s basically now or never," Lesniak said. "If we don’t do it now, the horse is out of the barn, the train will have left the station and we’ll be left holding the bag."
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