TRENTON — The state senator who sponsored a bill that promised to make New Jersey the first state to legalize online gambling appeared deflated — as well as combative on who should take the blame — one day after watching Delaware lawmakers do what he could not.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow to see Delaware pull ahead of us,” Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, said Thursday.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in Delaware became the first state legislature to legalize online gambling. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed it Thursday.
In New Jersey, a bill that would have done the same was approved by a legislative committee earlier this month but never put to a full floor vote in the Assembly or Senate.
Lesniak, who made passage of that bill a priority, said the blame falls on Gov. Chris Christie, whom he said did not support online gambling in the state. Christie vetoed a similar bill last year and told legislators he would not support their bill again this year, they said.
“He’s a blowhard if he says otherwise,” Lesniak said of Christie.
Christie’s spokesman referred questions about Internet gambling to statements the governor has made in the past, including on May 31 during a town hall meeting in East Brunswick when Christie said he opposed allowing online gambling halls to be operated in neighborhoods across the state and was concerned about underage gambling.
“So if we can make it work, I’m willing to consider it,” Christie said then. “But I’m not going to consider it if it’s going to affect quality of life for people in the state and have unintended consequences.”
During the East Coast Gaming Congress earlier this year, online gambling experts said sophisticated software is available to detect underage gamblers. The legislation, as proposed, also would have required the servers and other equipment that make Internet gambling possible to reside only inside Atlantic City casinos.
Still in light of a likely veto, Lesniak said legislators chose not to pursue the bill any further this session. He also said some Democratic members of his caucus were opposed the bill because they wanted to allow other venues, such as racetracks, to offer online gambling. That meant passage of the bill would depend on Republican support, which was unlikely if Christie was ready to veto it, Lesniak said.
“We don’t have enough support,” he said.
Lesniak and fellow Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said they would try to pursue the bill once again in the fall, saying New Jersey, due to the number of casinos in Atlantic City, is better situated than Delaware to be a leader in Internet gambling.
They don’t have the infrastructure,” Lesniak said of Delaware.
While people sitting at home cannot legally gamble on the Internet, they soon will have the chance to gamble on a portable mobile device from anywhere inside a casino under a bill that has cleared both houses in the Legislature, including the Senate on Thursday.
The legislation now heads to the governor, who is expected to sign it. Once it becomes law, casino resorts would be able to issue a portable device to patrons, who then can use the device to gamble from anywhere inside the hotel property.
Whelan said more important than the allowance of portable gambling devices is a provision in the bill revising the casino deregulation legislation passed last year. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority now would be required to limit the use of all of its assets and revenues toward projects in Atlantic City.
Under the prior legislation, which Whelan described as an oversight that was identified by the governor’s staff, CRDA was prohibited from using some of its funds for Atlantic City projects, according to John Palmieri, the authority’s executive director.
“The intent was there,” he said. “(But) we really couldn’t do it until the legislation was changed.”
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