NEW JERSEY INTERNET GAMBLING BILL THROUGH ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE
10th May, 2012 at 16:25:52
House lawmakers join Senate committee colleagues, who approved the bill last month
Sen. Ray Lesniak's second attempt at getting an online gambling legalisation bill through the state Legislature enjoyed further success Thursday when the important House Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee voted 3-1, with one abstention, to send the bill to a vote of the full Assembly.
Last month the bill was similarly approved by a Senate committee (see previous report)
Lesniak's bill centres a legalised and regulated online gambling regime in existing Atlantic City land casinos, licensed to take bets from people in other states or countries, although key details have still to be finalised.
The Associated Press news agency reports that the state Assembly panel approved the bill with an amendment that would let New Jersey take out-of-state bets, as long as the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement determines that doing so wouldn't violate federal law.
Both measures now go for full votes in their respective chambers, though none were immediately scheduled.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli addressed the intrastate or inter-state debate, saying: "Nothing can happen outside our state borders unless the federal government acts, and that's not likely anytime soon."
The new bill has been crafted to address Gov. Chris Christie's concerns over Lesniak's previous measure, which the governor vetoed despite the positive votes of both Assembly and Senate last year.
The proposal faces strong opposition from the state's horse racing industry, which wants to be included in it with the Atlantic City casino operators, who generally support the new law.
Robert Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, urged the legislature to pass the bill, saying it would benefit Atlantic City's casino resorts.
"The state of New Jersey must be in the forefront of legalizing this emerging marketplace," he told the Assembly committee. "Currently, millions of Americans engage in online gaming with illegal offshore operators with no oversight, no regulation, and no consumer protection.
The state should regulate this activity, enforce strict standards to ensure the games are fair, and collect revenue rather than allow profits and jobs to illegally go overseas."
Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. said the state needs to act to keep up with evolving technology.
"The Internet has long been a reality, and Internet gaming in New Jersey should now be reality too," he said. "We have to move aggressively and thoughtfully to position our gaming industry to succeed, and this is another step toward that goal."
State Sen. Ralph Caputo, a Democrat and former Atlantic City casino executive, said that it was hypocritical for the Legislature to confine an expansion through online gambling only to Atlantic City casinos at the expense of those elsewhere in the state. He called for a referendum of state residents on the issue.
Sen. Lesniak and Assemblyman Burzichelli reminded the committee that Constitutional experts have already given professional opinions that online gaming would be legal as long as the servers where the bets were executed are located in Atlantic City.
Lesniak again emphasised that the state must act quickly to approve online gaming ahead of rival jurisdictions such as Iowa, California, and Washington, D.C., pointing out that the first state to market would gain hundreds of high-tech, high-paying jobs as the industry develops from the ground up.
However, some politicians appear to feel that it is unlikely the bill will clear both state chambers before the end of June, when the current legislative season ends. That could mean a delay into autumn.
And how Gov. Christie views the bill is also an issue that has come in for conjecture recently (see previous reports).
The tax rate will also be a key element, and there are differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the bill, with the former proposing 20% of gross gaming revenues and an additional 5% levy to the casino reinvestment development project.
That is way above the total 9.25% paid by brick-and-mortar operators.
North Jersey.com reports that other gambling bills also passed the committee stage Thursday; one on simulcast betting on horse races, another to allow horse race betting via mobile devices, and a third designed to simplify the offering on bingo for non-profit purposes.
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