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New Jersey Online Gambling Bill Moves One Step

By: Ryan Alders, Tuesday March 6th 2012
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Last year New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed the online gambling bill sponsored by Democrat Senator Ray Lesniak after it had been passed by the legislature. Lesniak later introduced another online gambling bill. This time around Lesniak was supported by fellow Democrat Senator Jim Whelan. One of the reasons that Governor Christie had given for vetoing the bill was that he wanted the benefits from online gambling to accrue to Atlantic City land casinos. Therefore Lesniak and Whelan withdrew the benefits going to the horse racing industry from their new bill.

Unfortunately this action has the horse racing lobby up in arms. Lobbyist Barbara DeMarco threatened with filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of expanded gambling in the state. She said that Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course officials would not support this legislation. Representatives of the Meadowlands Racetrack and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey also made their stand against the bill very clear. However, the Senate Government and Wagering Committee passed the bill with three votes in favor, none against and two abstentions. The next move is to bring the bill before the full New Jersey Senate.

Senator Whelan pointed out that New Jersey needed to be the first jurisdiction in the United States to have regulated online casinos and poker. Any delay in passing the bill could mean a loss of first mover advantage. Whelan also added that he is open to discussion with the horse racing lobby, but does not appreciate their "do this or else" attitude.

Governor Christie also responded to the passing of the online gambling bill in the Senate Committee. He said that he was greatly interested in the bill and was hoping that the concerns he had raised while vetoing the last bill had been addressed. He knew that members of his office were in constant touch with Senators Lesniak and Whelan and their staff, but he had not yet been briefed on the issue.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, who is also the vice chairman of the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, raised the bogey of a state-wide referendum. He said that this was under consideration and opinion from an expert on the state Constitution was being sought on whether there exists a legislative requirement of going to the voters. According to the state Constitution, no gambling can be conducted outside of Atlantic City except betting on horse racing and buying lottery tickets. Lesniak has in the past said that requirement was met by locating the online gambling servers in Atlantic City.

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