In breaking news from New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has vetoed a bill passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the state’s legislature that would have created the first intrastate internet gambling market in the U.S.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Christie’s decision was in part based on doubts about whether the bill could withstand a constitutional test: “In my view, the creation of a legal fiction deeming all wagers to have ‘originated’ in Atlantic City cannot overcome the clear and unambiguous language of the State Constitution.”
Instead of signing the bill into law or placing a conditional veto on it, Christie put the onus on New Jersey’s legislature to clear the way for legalized internet gaming in the future. The Journal quoted the Governor as saying, “If the Legislature believes that expanding gambling outside of Atlantic City is in the best interests of the State of New Jersey, it should place the question on the ballot for the voters to decide.”
Among those who were disappointed at Christie’s decision was Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association Chairman Joe Brennan, who told Poker News Daily shortly after the veto announcement, “We’re disappointed. It’s unfortunate that Christie squandered the lead that New Jersey had in establishing the center for i-gaming in the U.S.”
On the prospects of the general public rubber-stamping an internet gaming referendum, Brennan explained, “We hope that a referendum is eventually successful and that i-gaming continues the progress it has made. With Florida, California, and Iowa all looking to allow this activity, you have to imagine that those states are happy with the Governor’s decision because now they have the opportunity for the revenue, jobs, and investments that New Jersey could have reaped.”
The bill, which was introduced by State Senator Raymond Lesniak, sailed through the Senate by a 34-2 vote and motored through the Assembly by a 63-11 margin. All told, of the 112 members of New Jersey’s legislature, only 13, or 11%, voted against it. Two members of the Assembly abstained in last month’s vote.
According to the Journal and other media outlets, Caesars Entertainment, which owns the rights to the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, was a staunch opponent of the bill. The New York newspaper quoted a Caesars Entertainment representative as saying, “We’ve always felt that the first focus should be trying to enact Federal legislation.”
Efforts at providing a Federal internet gambling framework stalled at the end of the last Congress and have not yet been renewed. Groups like the Poker Players Alliance were concerned that the New Jersey bill would contribute to a fragmentation of the U.S. market, potentially resulting in lower player liquidities.
The Journal added that a lack of understanding of the bill’s effects could also be to blame: “A nonpartisan legislative office in New Jersey said it could not estimate how much economic activity internet gaming would generate because of a lack of data on New Jersey residents’ online gambling habits. It also said the bill could prompt Atlantic City visitors to stay home and gamble from their laptops – or draw in new customers.”
Lesniak’s bill would have allowed web-based versions of popular land-based games like poker. In order for a referendum to be successful, both chambers of New Jersey’s legislature would have to approve a bill by a two-thirds majority. Then, the question would be placed on the ballot in November.
In response to the veto, Lesniak commented, “We need to work as quickly as possible to bring this bill back to the Governor’s desk and position Atlantic City to become the Silicon Valley of the high-tech gaming sector. New Jersey can still become the first state in the nation to offer legalized internet wagering and, by leading the way, we position the Garden State to reap the benefits of getting in on the ground floor of a multi-million dollar market.”