TRENTON — New Jersey casinos could legally offer Internet wagers to state residents, a state constitutional law scholar told the Assembly’s gaming committee Monday, adding that current law permits this without even asking voters to amend the state constitution.
“It is permissible to expand gambling in Atlantic City, if the gambling is actually taking place in Atlantic City,” John B. Wefing said.
Wefing, a Seton Hall law professor since 1968, is the second person to testify in hearings before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee on potential Internet wagers.
Wefing walked lawmakers through his legal reasoning Monday. Wagers are contracts, he said, and the law recognizes that contracts occur where the final action needed to take place occurs.
He built on last week’s testimony by attorney Behnam Dayanim, of the Washington, D.C., firm of Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider. Dayanim said that while players could be anywhere from Newark to Cape May, the actual bet would occur on the servers located in Atlantic City, where state voters approved casino gaming in 1976.
While the amendment limited casino gaming to Atlantic City, Wefing said it left it up to the Legislature to determine what sort of gaming would occur there.
Further, laws that legislatures pass are presumed to be constitutional, unless proven other7wise. Lawmakers should not fear a judge, he said, because this law would have a strong presumption of constitutionality.
Wefing ruled out the state’s horse tracks from potentially taking part in Internet casino wagering. In his view, the law specifically referred to casino gaming, which is limited to Atlantic City.
At issue is a race among states to become the American headquarters for legal Internet wagers.
Internet wagering has long been banned in the United States, but the federal Justice Department declared that the sale of online lottery tickets did not violate the federal Wire Act of 1961, which previously limited Internet wagering.
Gov. Chris Christie said that Internet gaming supporters would have to amend the constitution when he vetoed a proposal last year.
On Monday, however, Christie said he could conceivably sign a bill approving Internet gambling without a referendum, as long as the state Attorney General’s Office and other legal authorities he has consulted say it would be OK.
Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos Jr, D-Hudson, chairs the committee and said lawmakers were taking the next six weeks to contemplate the issues. Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, said he believed the committee would likely take a vote on the issue in May.
“I found it very interesting,” said Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, who sits on the committee. “I was pretty happy because I think that it’s specific to gaming.”
Lawmakers have introduced separate bills that would amend the constitution or allow it immediately.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, earlier predicted both houses of the Legislature could approve an Internet gambling bill and send it to Christie’s desk by Thursday. Lesniak said the state can’t afford to wait long, noting that the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board has predicted his state could begin granting Internet poker licenses in that state in May or June, with companies having games up and running before the end of this year.
“It’s extremely important we get going now, so as to be able to compete with other states for online gaming and generate those revenues for our casinos,” Lesniak said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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