A bill that would allow people to legally gamble on Atlantic City casino games through the Internet from home was approved by an Assembly committee Monday and now awaits a full vote.
Aaron Gomes, executive vice president of operations at Resorts Casino Hotel characterized Internet gambling as "the biggest thing to happen in Atlantic City in a long time."
"It will be huge," he said. "Anything that lets us be the first player in the game will give us a huge advantage over other markets. It would also create tons of jobs and tons of money for Atlantic City."
If passed, the bill would allow people to play the same games they would if they were in Atlantic City. The servers and other computer equipment would be located within an Atlantic City casino. The Division of Gaming Enforcement would remain the regulatory authority.
William J. Pascrell III, a lobbyist for Internet gambling, said the industry would immediately create 1,500 to 1,900 "high-wage" jobs and add $300 million in additional revenue a year. New Jersey could be the first state to pass an Internet gambling bill, making it a "mecca" for Internet gambling companies who would then have to partner with one of the 12 casinos in Atlantic City in order to operate, Pascrell said.
"We believe this bill is critical and the timing is important," he said.
The bill, which was passed by the Appropriations Committee, now heads to the full house, likely in the fall, officials said. A duplicate bill already has passed the Senate along with some amendments. Those same amendments, including one that increases the funds for compulsive gambling treatment, are expected to be made to the Assembly bill.
Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said his organization took a neutral stance on the matter but urged the Assembly to adopt the Senate amendments that would increase funding of compulsive gambling treatment from $15,000 to $65,000 with another $85,000 slated for use by the council. In total, a casino licensed for Internet gambling would have to pay $150,000 a year.
"No form of gambling is more accessible than online," Weinbaum said.
Even if the legislation is passed, it is unclear whether the governor would sign it into law. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill last year, though supporters of this year's incarnation said that many of the governor's past objections have been addressed, such as the constitutionality of Internet gambling. A U.S. Department of Justice opinion last year appeared to indicate it was legal. This year's bill also makes no mention of horse racing, which had been a sticking point last year.
Still, the governor also has raised fundamental questions about whether the state should allow gambling outside of Atlantic City to anyone with Internet access. During a press conference in Atlantic City a few weeks ago, Christie was noncommittal about the bill, saying he was awaiting the bill from legislators.
Despite potential political and legal challenges, Internet gambling would help pull Atlantic City out of its five-year revenue slump, Tony Rodio, president and chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort, said
"I think we still have a long way to go before we get over the finish line," he said. "But anything we can get at this point will help. It's pretty impactful."
Some Assembly committee members said they had reservations about the bill, bringing up some of the same questions Christie raised last year. Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Somerset, said Internet gambling would discourage people from visiting Atlantic City as tourists.
"Who will drive all the way to Atlantic City?" he asked. "I'm very concerned about the impact on the city itself."
Other members said the bill would legalize what is already happening illicitly in homes and allow the state to collect taxes on the winnings.
"Internet gaming goes on in New Jersey whether we sanction it or not," Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth said.
However, Casagrande abstained from voting on the matter because she did not believe Internet gambling should be limited to Atlantic City casinos, suggesting that horse tracks should be allowed to provide the service.
"I would suggest if we deal with gaming in this state, we deal with gaming fairly," she said.