More than four months after the launch of Internet gambling in New Jersey, operators in the developing industry are approaching their first deadlines for creating jobs in the state.

Regulators are requiring that by May 1, all platform providers base their teams working on customer service, fraud detection and accounting in New Jersey. Rather than the gambling industry jobs of the past, which included cocktail servers, dealers and other service and hospitality positions, the jobs of the future will be more technical, dealing with activity from behind computer screens.

Exact numbers of how many Internet gambling-related jobs have been created to date and what those numbers will grow to by May are unavailable because providers haven’t been given specific quotas, though some speculate the number will be in the hundreds within the year.

Industry advocates champion the future of the industry, one they say could position New Jersey as a central hub of the market and bear more than 20,000 jobs.

“It’s still so early that no one has really taken a tally of jobs to date,” said William J. Pascrell III, a New Jersey lobbyist who advocated for Internet gambling. “New Jersey has already elapsed Nevada and Delaware’s markets, and we’re just scratching the surface. If New Jersey becomes a hub, the numbers will go up exponentially.”

State Sen. Jim Whelan, who is co-sponsoring a bill that would encourage that hub status by allowing international online gambling companies to operate out of New Jersey, still cautioned that eye-popping job numbers cannot be the state’s expectation from the industry.

“I’ve tried to downplay the expectations that this in and of itself was going to be a huge job creator, because I don’t think it was ever sold that way,” said Whelan, D-Atlantic. “It was intended to keep some of the properties here going with more jobs coming if we get the hub status. But this will never be the kind of job creation that comes from brick and mortar.”

But while the focus in New Jersey is on job creation, lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation at the federal level to ban online gambling across the country.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Graham has said that because of the Justice Department ruling permitting online gambling, “Virtually any cellphone or computer can become a video poker machine. It’s simply not right.”

Meanwhile, Atlantic City’s gambling revenue has fallen from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006 to less than $3 billion last year, and Internet gambling has generated less than $28 million since November in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration recently lowered tax-revenue expectations, which local legislators had said for months were unrealistic, from $160 million to $34 million.

Casino employment has gone from about 45,000 workers in 2005 to just more than 30,000 in February, according to the most recent data available from the state, which reflects 1,600 jobs lost in January when the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel shut down.

Regulators have tried to ensure that in whatever jobs do develop, New Jersey gets its fair share. Regulators have been working with providers since the November launch to ensure teams will be in New Jersey by May 1, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement spokeswoman Kerry Langan said.

“The division has placed a high priority on customer service requirements and has informed all Internet gaming platform providers that they must have all of their customer service personnel located in New Jersey by May 1,” Langan said. “The requirement … extends beyond customer service representatives and also includes personnel working to combat fraud, collusion and money laundering. It also includes accounting personnel.”

For Caesars Interactive Entertainment, which holds permits for Bally’s Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City, that’s going to mean 47 jobs in two offices by May, Caesars Interactive spokesman Seth Palansky said. Those jobs include both of Caesars Interactive’s online gambling partners, 888 Holdings and Amaya Gaming Group, and will mean offices opening in Northfield and Secaucus, Hudson County.

After the May deadline, a few more positions may be added in the immediate future, but Palansky said there are specific thresholds they’re hoping to meet. The 47 jobs, Palansky noted, are dedicated solely to New Jersey Internet gambling and do not include shared-service employees through other Caesars properties, either locally, nationally or internationally.

“We’re optimistic that there’s plenty of opportunity in New Jersey,” Palansky said. “As the industry grows it’s likely that we will need more folks, particularly on the customer service side.”

Pascrell, meanwhile, pointed to the bill sponsored by Whelan and state Sen. Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, as the future driver of the industry. The bill would allow the state to license online gambling operators nationally and internationally, provided that they have a physical presence in Atlantic City. The operators would be able to offer online gambling to clientele in approved jurisdictions but with the the legitimacy that comes with New Jersey’s licensure.

The state would benefit from any jobs created as well as tax revenue as the companies would be taxed at 15 percent. Pascrell said the legislation also helps to lay the groundwork for future compacting that could create a nationwide system of online gambling.

“This is something that’s been in the works since last summer, and it’s very, very real. It’s a vehicle to provide confidence in this industry and it will provide growth for New Jersey without question,” Pascrell said. “None of this will happen overnight, but the potential is there.”

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

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