Lawmakers and poker players are lobbying the governor to sign a bill authorizing Internet gambling, saying it would allow New Jersey to compete with Nevada and other early adopters of online gambling.
This comes as the state Treasury Department released November figures showing casino revenue taxes plummeting by double digit percentages for the second consecutive month.
Internet gambling would be a way to help replenish the casino revenue tax fund, which helps pay for services for seniors and disabled residents, said Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who was among four Democratic senators who wrote a letter to Gov. Chris Christie, urging him to sign the bill.
“Given the fiscal conditions facing our casinos, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the recent movement toward Internet gaming in states across the country, we cannot afford to wait any longer,” Whelan; Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland; Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union; and Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, said in their letter.
In the letter, senators said Nevada was the first state to authorize online poker games in 2011, and with a permit issued over the summer, online poker sites could open soon in that state. Illinois also began authorizing the sale of lottery tickets online this year, and Delaware has enacted legislation to allow for casino gambling over the Internet.
“The greater urgency is recognizing the reality that the Internet, generally, is a fact of life and Internet gambling will soon be a fact of life,” Whelan said.
Under the legislation, which cleared the Senate and Assembly in December, Internet gambling revenue would be taxed at 10 percent compared to the 8 percent tax rate imposed on Atlantic City casino gambling. All of the equipment used directly in Internet gambling, with the exception of backups, must be located in an Atlantic City casino.
Lawmakers have said the measure would make the possible sale of Atlantic Club Casino Hotel to PokerStars or a similar Internet gambling company more attractive. The two companies are reportedly in negotiations. A representative of PokerStars said there was no update on the matter.
The Poker Players Alliance, a national nonprofit advocacy group with more than 30,000 members living in New Jersey, said it and hundreds of poker players have contacted Christie asking him to sign the bill.
“This bill offers a unique opportunity to remain on the forefront of this innovative industry and to serve as the epicenter for the growth of Internet poker in the U.S.,” Anthony Salerno, the alliance’s state director and an Asbury Park police captain who lives in Howell, Monmouth County, said in a statement.
Christie has vetoed similar legislation in the past, but lawmakers said that was before other states started moving toward authorizing Internet gambling. They also believed they have addressed some of the governor’s concerns with the measure, such as banning places other than casinos from advertising itself as an Internet gambling parlor or making its premise available for the activity. Christie said he was concerned about the proliferation of neighborhood gambling parlors.
Overall, the state closed out November with its revenue cash collections under budget projections by more than 10 percent, with casino taxes plummeting more than 50 percent, according to the Treasury Department.
Compared to last year, casino revenue taxes were down 38 percent in November and nearly 8 percent for the fiscal year to date. The state treasurer and budget and finance director are set to come before a state senate committee Thursday to update lawmakers on the situation.
Contact Hoa Nguyen: