New Jersey’s Internet gambling bill is headed back to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie, having passed through the state senate Thursday with a 33-3 vote.
"I hope the governor will sign as soon as possible so we can save jobs, create jobs in Atlantic City and bring much-needed revenue to our casinos and the treasury of the state of New Jersey," said State Sen. Ray Lesniak, the leading sponsor of the legislation.
The bill, which authorizes Atlantic City casinos to host websites that offer online poker and casino games, passed through the state assembly Monday. Gov. Christie has 45 days from when the bill hits his desk to either sign it, veto it or do nothing and allow it to go through when the time elapses. Lesniak said he would get the bill to Christie by the end of the day.
If this all seems like deja vu, it’s because the same thing happened last year (the senate’s vote was even almost exactly the same at 32-4) only to have Christie veto the bill. He waited past the 45-day mark, claiming that a legislative recess gave him the extra time, and finally vetoed the bill the day of his deadline.
Lesniak hopes this time will be different but admits he has no indication one way or the other. If the governor does allow the bill to proceed, Lesniak said he expects the first online poker sites to be up and running in New Jersey within six months.
Initially, the sites would serve only people located in New Jersey, but Lesniak hopes other states would follow by legalizing online poker and joining with the sites and regulations already established by the experienced gaming state. As it appears federal legislation happening any time soon is unlikely, the country is going in the direction of moving toward online poker on this state-by-state basis.
"It would be a life boat that our casinos could hold on to in anticipation of not only getting additional revenue but being able to attract more people to Atlantic City through the use of comps," Lesniak said.
It also may mark the return of PokerStars to the U.S., or at least a part of the U.S. There was a report earlier this month that PokerStars had interest in buying a struggling Atlantic City casino, and Lesniak has said New Jersey would welcome the investment from the world’s largest Internet poker site.
Whether any of this happens is up to Christie. When vetoing the original bill, he mentioned concerns about a horse-racing purse subsidy, having Internet cafes popping up all over the state as places people would go to gamble and whether the bill violated the state constitution’s requirement that all casino gambling take place within the boundaries of Atlantic City.
The first two issues were resolved in the current legislation. Seton Hall law professor John B. Wefing was brought in to provide his interpretation that, as long as the servers processing the bets are located in Atlantic City, the state constitution is not an issue.
Christie indicated in January that he had come around on the idea of Internet gambling, encouraging Lesniak to reintroduce the bill. However, as the election campaigns heated up, support from the governor’s office waned forcing Lesniak to delay voting on the legislation.
With Atlantic City casinos suffering through another difficult year, including damage and a hit in tourism made by Hurricane Sandy, Lesniak decided it was time to move the bill and press the governor to make a decision. Lesniak said online gaming would bring Atlantic City casinos more than $100 million a year with the state getting 10 percent in taxes.
"We have given him expert legal opinions in addition to my opinion that [the constitutionality issue] was solved by bets being taken in Atlantic City and only Atlantic City casinos being involved in Atlantic City gaming," Lesniak said. "If he doesn’t sign the bill, at least one Atlantic City casino if not more will close and thousands of jobs will be lost."