Get ready, get set - click. Internet wagering is coming next month to home computers and portable electronic devices in what represents a new era of gambling for New Jersey.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement announced Friday that Internet gambling will launch on Nov. 26 after a test period for the Atlantic City casinos and their Web partners.
There will be a five-day trial period of "soft play" starting Nov. 21 to test the system in a live environment. Soft play would be restricted to invited patrons only. Full-fledged Internet gambling would begin at 9 a.m. on Nov. 26 if there are no problems during the test.
Internet wagering on slots and table games represents the biggest expansion of gambling in Atlantic City since the casino era began in 1978. New Jersey joins Nevada and Delaware as the only states so far to legalize online gambling.
Gamblers will be able to use their home computers, smartphones and other electronic devices to play online, as long as they are within New Jersey's borders. Players will set up accounts with the casinos or their Web partners to gamble.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement said safeguards are built into the digital system to restrict play within New Jersey and prevent children or banned gamblers from playing online. For instance, pass codes and other security features will be set up to block children from accessing their parents' or another adult's online accounts.
In another key safeguard, New Jersey will automatically extend its list of "self-excluded" gamblers to the betting websites. Currently, compulsive gamblers may voluntarily ban themselves from casinos by signing up for an exclusion list.
New Jersey's foray into Internet gambling has attracted some of the biggest names of online wagering in Europe. They have formed partnerships with the Atlantic City casinos to capitalize on the emerging Internet gambling market in the United States.
Online gambling will become an $8.5 billion business in the United States within five years, according to estimates by Linwood-based casino consulting company Spectrum Gaming Group. Spectrum estimated Atlantic City casinos will initially reap $400 million in annual revenue from New Jersey's online gambling operations.
The new source of revenue is expected to help the casinos recover from a seven-year decline in slot and table games winnings from their brick-and-mortar operations. Casinos are hoping online gambling will complement their land-based operations instead of cannibalizing the Atlantic City visitor market.
Robert Heller, president and chief executive officer of Spectrum Gaming Capital, a Spectrum Gaming Group company, said collaboration between casinos and their Web partners will be crucial.
"We came out strongly that it is complementary, but only as so far that it's done in concert and directly in relationship with the casinos. If there's no physical connection attached to the customers or connectivity to the casino, it may not be as impactful," said Heller, who has studied Internet gambling.
Ten of the casinos have lined up Web partners. Only Revel Casino-Hotel and the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel have not yet disclosed their plans for online wagering.
Bwin.party, the Web partner of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said last month that its paperwork is complete and it will be ready to launch its Internet gambling operations as soon as New Jersey gives the final go-ahead. Bwin.party is best known for its partypoker.com brand in Europe and the World Poker Tour franchise.
Caesars Entertainment, owner of the Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's Resort and Showboat casinos, is teaming up with 888 Holdings for Web betting.
Tropicana Casino and Resort's Internet partner is Gamesys Limited, which operates the jackpotjoy.com website in Europe.
Resorts Casino Hotel is pairing up with PokerStars, the world's largest poker website. PokerStars aligned itself with Resorts after its plan to buy the Atlantic Club collapsed.
Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort is using Ultimate Gaming as its Web partner. Ultimate Gaming was the first company to launch online poker when it began this year in Nevada.
Tobin Prior, CEO of Ultimate Gaming, said the company is making every effort to be ready by New Jersey's Nov. 26 target date. He noted that Ultimate Gaming's ability to go live depends on final approval from regulators and the testing labs.
"This is an exciting time for the real-money online gaming industry and a new era where a high standard of regulation is meeting technological innovation," Prior said in a statement. "As the first company to go live for real-money online casino gaming in the U.S., our team at Ultimate Gaming knows how hard it is to develop the necessary compliance features."
The Taj Mahal's sister property, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, is teaming up with Web company Betfair, Wall Street analysts have reported.
Golden Nugget Atlantic City will offer Internet gambling under its own brand, although it is using Bally Technologies as its technology provider. Golden Nugget's parent company, Landry's Inc., announced in August that it will consider selling the casino or its Internet gambling rights.
More than 40 companies have submitted applications to the Division of Gaming Enforcement for New Jersey Internet licenses. State investigators will scrutinize their background before ruling whether those companies qualify for a license.
Most of the regulations governing online gambling will take effect Oct. 21, with another set being published on Oct. 28.
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