Two bills - one of which could put a roulette table in the palm of a gambler's hand, the other offers multimillion-dollar tax breaks for nongaming development in Atlantic City - cleared the state Senate gaming committee Monday afternoon in Trenton.
Both bills now go to the full Senate for a vote.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said wireless gaming is "an attempt to recognize we have a generation of young adults who are used to getting their recreation and communications from the palm of their hand."
Wireless gaming has been permitted since 2005 in Nevada, where casino patrons can take their games practically everywhere but their rooms.
Attorneys Joseph Tyrrell and Joseph Dougherty, who represent the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the group supports the proposal - which would permit authorized games on approved devices within a casino property - because it wants the nation's second-largest gaming jurisdiction to keep current with trends.
They cited other recent examples of gaming halls taking gambling beyond the casino floor, such as Tropicana Casino and Resort's installation of slot machines and electronic table games in The Quarter and the introduction of blackjack tables to The Pool at Harrah's Resort.
"This is an exciting area we need to address, and New Jersey can be the forefront," Tyrrell said.
David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, has said he is confident New Jersey can develop regulations to ensure the integrity of the wireless gaming devices, as well as the ability to keep them out of the hands of children.
Senators later questioned the value of the tax credit program, which would provide nongaming development projects in the Tourism District with a $20 million credit against state taxes over 10 years if the project costs at least $20 million and creates at least 100 jobs.
"While we're working to keep Atlantic City's casinos competitive, we have to be mindful of keeping Atlantic City competitive, and by offering a tax credit for nongaming projects within the Tourism District, we can attract new shopping, dining and entertainment options for Atlantic City's visitors to enjoy," Whelan said in a statement.
However, Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, asked during the hearing why lawmakers should lower the threshold from the older Urban Transit Hub program, which required at least a $50 million investment and 250 new jobs for eligibility.
"From a business standpoint, those are big projects in our eyes," Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joseph Kelly said of the smaller Atlantic City projects. He added, "Business needs the incentives to attract them to our marketplace."
Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, also wondered how the state Economic Development Authority, which would have final authority, would judge the merits of the projects.
Thompson asked whether the project developers would apply for other incentives on local taxes and questioned the net effect on local schools if the EDA approved significant numbers of projects.
Whelan said an additional provision that would allow casinos to lease slot machines for a portion of revenue would likely be changed. Most of the city's casinos, other than Resorts Casino Hotel, oppose the proposal out of fear they would be forced into sharing revenue or lose access to newer devices.
Lawmakers also approved several amendments to the original bills. One would give the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority the right to regulate noise in the Tourism District, over and above whatever city ordinances were in effect.
Whelan said that was something that should have been done in the original Tourism District legislation. Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar bill last month sponsored by Whelan and other shore lawmakers that largely exempted beach bars, amusement parks and carnival amusements from state noise laws between May 15 and Oct. 15.
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