Monday marked a historic day for the internet gambling industry in the United States. A bill introduced by State Senator Raymond Lesniak cleared the New Jersey Assembly by a comfortable 63-11 margin, with three lawmakers abstaining. Recently, it was approved in the New Jersey Senate by a 34-2 vote, or a 17:1 edge. Now, it heads to the desk of Republican Governor Chris Christie.
The bill would create the first intrastate internet gambling framework in the U.S. and clear the way for existing land-based operators like Trump and Harrah’s to offer internet versions of their games, including poker. However, approval from Christie does not seem like a sure-fire bet. A Press of Atlantic City article published Monday night summed up the major arguments for and against its passage: “Supporters say the move would put New Jersey ahead of other states that are moving to grab the online gaming market. But others remained cautious, saying that the state should not put itself in possible violation of Federal law.”
According to the Press, Lesniak’s bill would result in $100 million in new revenue and, perhaps more importantly, create 500 additional jobs for the state, which saw Atlantic City gaming revenues dive by nearly 10% in 2010. New Jersey has come under fire from increased gambling options in neighboring states like Pennsylvania and Delaware. Lesniak’s bill calls for internet gambling revenues to, in part, help fuel horse racing purses for tracks located in the northern part of New Jersey.
Among the groups that have been instrumental in bringing the legislation to life is the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, or iMEGA. Its Chairman, Joe Brennan, commented in a press release, “Congratulations to New Jersey’s legislators on their overwhelming vote in favor of the intrastate internet gambling bill. It’s clear that New Jersey’s representatives want their state to be at the forefront of the online gaming industry, both in the U.S. and globally.”
Christie now has three options. He could sign the bill into law and create the first intrastate internet gambling framework in the United States. Alternately, perhaps fearful that the measure won’t stand up to a challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice, Christie could veto it. Then, a two-thirds majority of the legislature is required to overturn the veto. Christie’s final option is not to act on the bill for 45 days, at which point it would become law.
Tonight marks Christie’s State of the State address, leaving many to wonder when and if he’ll sign the bill. A group called High 5 Games remained optimistic that Christie would give Lesniak’s measure his John Hancock: “We are optimistic that Governor Chris Christie will sign this important piece of legislation into law to revive the state’s gaming industry. This law will allow our state’s gaming industry to thrive, creating more jobs and much needed tax revenue for the people of New Jersey.”
Some in the industry have speculated that major sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker would vacate the New Jersey market should the bill ultimately become law. However, neither PokerStars nor Full Tilt Poker has given any indication either way. Both recently pulled out of Washington State after the State Supreme Court upheld a law that makes playing online poker a Class C felony.
A Federal challenge to the bill would likely stem from the Wire Act of 1961 or Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). In a decision on the latter bill, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals contended that the legality of internet gambling under the UIGEA depends on the jurisdictions where the player and the internet gambling outfit are located. In the case of New Jersey, both would be within the state’s confines and therefore likely above board. The Wire Act has traditionally applied to sports betting, which isn’t addressed in Lesniak’s bill.
Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest and visit the official website of iMEGA to learn more.