Internet gambling legislation is headed to a floor vote by the state Assembly after passing the Appropriations Committee on Monday.
If passed, the bill would allow people to legally gamble at home on the Internet, playing the same games they would in Atlantic City. The servers and other computer equipment would be located in Atlantic City.
William J. Pascrell III, a lobbyist for Internet gambling, said the industry would immediately create 1,500 to 1,900 "high-wage" jobs. If New Jersey were to pass the bill, it would be the first state to do so and would become a "mecca" for Internet gambling.
"We believe this bill is critical and the timing is important," he said.
Internet gambling companies would have to partner with one of the 12 casinos in Atlantic City in order to operate. The Division of Gaming Enforcement would remain the industry's regulatory authority.
Pascrell said if states approve Internet gambling, it will spur the federal government to act and legalize it across the country.
Some committee members said they had reservations about the bill, including whether it would discourage people from visiting Atlantic City,
"Who will drivie all the way to Atlantic City?" asked committee member John DiMaio, R-Somerset. "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," Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth said.
A duplicate bill already has passed the Senate along with some amendments. Those same amendments are expected to be made to the Assembly bill before going to a full floor vote, likely sometime in the fall.
Atlantic City executives believe Internet gambling would have a profound effect on the market, generating millions of dollars in new revenue and creating a strong attraction that rival casinos in surrounding states currently lack.
Aaron Gomes, executive vice president of operations at Resorts Casino Hotel, characterized it as “the biggest thing to happen in Atlantic City in a long time.”
“It will be huge,” Gomes 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.”
Tony Rodio, president and chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort, said Internet gambling would help pull Atlantic City out of its five-year revenue slump. However, he alluded to possible political and legal challenges ahead. Rodio noted that the governor still has not made his position clear on Internet gambling.
“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.”