TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie signed a landmark bill Tuesday authorizing Atlantic City casinos to start offering Internet gambling, ushering in what supporters called a new era for Atlantic City.
"This is a historic moment for Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey," one of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, said prior to the Senate passing the legislation 35-1. "This is good news for Atlantic City that it hasn't heard in years."
The bill also easily cleared the Assembly 68-5, with one abstention. Christie later signed the measure, saying that it contained the necessary regulatory framework and safeguards he had sought.
"This was a critical decision, and one that I did not make lightly," the governor said. "But with the proper regulatory framework and safeguards that I insisted on including in the bill, I am confident that we are offering a responsible yet exciting option that will make Atlantic City more competitive while also bringing financial benefits to New Jersey as a whole."
The budget proposal Christie unveiled Tuesday assumes that much of a $200 million projected increase in casino revenue taxes in 2014 will come from the introduction of Internet gambling.
"Internet gambling holds the potential to provide a boost to the city’s casino operators as they rebound from the effects of the economy and increased competition, while adding another dimension to efforts to reinvigorate the city," Casino Control Commission Chairman Matthew Levinson said in a statement.
The legislation makes New Jersey the third state to offer some form of Internet gambling, behind Nevada and Delaware. While regulators will need time to set up its system of licensing casinos for Internet gambling — expected to take months once the bill is enacted — state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said the administration believes there is enough interest among casinos and desire to get started as soon as possible.
Gary Loveman, chairman and chief executive officer of Caesars Entertainment, told casino analysts during a conference call Monday that his company will be well-positioned to take advantage of online gambling in New Jersey and Nevada.
“In New Jersey, you can see it’s quite a meaningful market for us, and we think it will be quite profitable,” he said.
Loveman declined to speculate on the amount of revenue Internet gambling may generate for the company’s Atlantic City operations, which include the Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos.
New Jersey could possibly team up with Nevada and Delaware to create a national system of Internet gambling and maximize the profits, Loveman suggested. Nevada has approved online poker play, while Delaware is preparing to introduce Internet betting for casino slot machines and table games in September. Loveman said the World Series of Poker, a Caesars Entertainment brand, would fit well with online wagering.
Loveman believes it could take between 18 months and two years before the regulations are completed and online wagering begins in New Jersey, quite a bit longer than other estimates.
Chad Beynon, an analyst with Macquarie Capital, is projecting $260 million to $400 million in annual revenue for Atlantic City’s casinos from Internet gambling. He believes that Caesars Entertainment will control 40 percent of the online market to be the big “winner.”
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel also are expected to be other strong players, Beynon said. The Atlantic Club is in the midst of being bought by Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars, the world’s largest poker website.
Last week, Nevada became the first state to revise its Internet gambling provisions to allow something similar to New Jersey. However unlike in Nevada, where online wagers are limited only to poker, Atlantic City casinos would be able to offer the same games on the Internet as are played on their floors.
Internet gambling in Atlantic City enjoys wide bipartisan support among legislators, however, at least one North Jersey lawmaker said focusing efforts on Atlantic City ignores the revenue being generated in casinos in New York and Pennsylvania and the possibilities of a casino in Meadowlands to generate more revenue for New Jersey.
"We are supporting a model with it's head stuck in the sand," Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, said on the Senate floor prior to voting against the bill. "Voting for this today is just allowing a bad policy to continue."
As part of Christie's recommendations, Internet gambling would be authorized for only 10 years, after which lawmakers must reauthorize the legislation in order for the activity to continue.
Unlike gambling revenue won on the casino floors of Atlantic City, which is taxed at 8 percent, Internet gambling revenue would be taxed at 15 percent. All equipment, with the exception of temporary backups, would have to be located in an Atlantic City casino.
The legislation also includes ethical provisions, extending prohibitions on casino-related employment to Internet gambling licensees and affiliates and requiring elected officials to disclose their representation of entities seeking or holding Internet gambling licenses.
Compulsive gambling treatment programs also would be better funded under the revised legislation.
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