New Jersey Flip Flop on Online Gambling

Published: January 9, 2012

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Early in 2011 the Senate and the House of the state of New Jersey had passed a bill allowing for legalization and regulation of intrastate online gambling. But Governor Chris Christie had used his powers and vetoed the bill. In August 2011, Senator Lesniak had introduced a new bill in the state legislature. This is where matters stood when the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) came out with a statement that intrastate online gambling was possible.

This galvanized Senator Lesniak into action. On January 2, 2012, he announced a fast track schedule to get his bill cleared by the Senate and the Assembly. He repeated his stand of making New Jersey the first state in America to have legal online gambling and thus becoming “the Silicon Valley of Internet gaming”. The plan was to have the bill approved in the committees on Thursday January 5 and voted by the Senate and the House on January 9 and sent to the Governor. At that time, the spokespersons for the Senate and the House did not confirm acceptance of Lesniak’s plan, though they did state that it was under consideration. The Governor’s office had refused to comment.

However, as things actually panned out, Governor Christie once again thwarted Lesniak’s plans. The Governor’s actions were less dramatic this time around. Apparently he had a discussion with Lesniak and convinced the latter not to act in haste. The Senator told the local media that he agreed to hold in abeyance the action on his bill on online gambling legalization to the first weeks of the next Legislative session. He said that the Governor still had constitutional concerns and is of the opinion that the bill may have to be put to voters on a ballot as a constitutional amendment. Lesniak said, “There are competing opinions on that within the administration and within the industry. But I am convinced that we can move forward and get it up and rolling without amending the constitution.”

Lesniak pointed out that his revised bill had addressed all the concerns that Governor Christie had raised while exercising his veto. The bill proposes that licenses will be issued and regulated by the Casino Control Commission; that the servers of the licensees will be located in Atlantic City; wagering will be restricted to New Jersey residents over the age of 21; card games will be restricted to those available in Atlantic City land casinos; advertising restrictions will apply; and a portion of the revenues generated will be allocated to the embattled horse racing industry.

In an independent press conference the Governor said, “I think New Jersey should be in that [online gambling] business. I think we should be an epicenter for that business, but I want to do it right. I do not want to rush and get legislation that either doesn’t pass state constitutional muster, or creates other problems for us.”


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