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The New Jersey State Senate Committee on Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation approved a bill calling for a referendum on sports wagering by a 4-0 margin on Monday. A measure authorizing intrastate internet gambling may be next on the docket.

The measure’s sponsor, Raymond Lesniak, “said legalized sports betting would raise $100 million in new state revenues and generate $500 million for the casinos and racetracks.” The figures are according to the Press of Atlantic City, which is one of a tidal wave of media outlets trumpeting the bill’s passage out of committee. Speaking at a hearing on Monday was Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Chairman Joe Brennan, who told Poker News Daily that legalized intrastate online gaming may soon follow: “If they’re moving sports betting, there will be much less resistance for internet gambling. Internet poker is expected to be relatively easier.” Lesniak also introduced an internet gambling bill.

Debate rages on in New Jersey as to where sports betting should be allowed and whether wagering on horse racing would be included. Another hurdle is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which iMEGA is seeking to overturn by proving that it is unconstitutional. Once PASPA is overturned, states around the country would be able to adopt sports betting, which is limited to only a handful of jurisdictions right now.

While Lesniak’s sports wagering bill requires a constitutional amendment in New Jersey, the internet gambling piece does not, according to Brennan: “Now, the plan is to move the internet bill. That one doesn’t require a constitutional amendment. With the sports one, even though it’s had a higher profile, it still has a long way to go.” The sports bill received the majority of the attention due to last weekend’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Originally, officials were calling for a vote on the measure last week. However, new committee members asked for more time in order to digest the issue.

If successful, sports wagering would be put to a public referendum in November. Also possible is a review by the New Jersey Senate Budget Committee, although the likelihood of that happening is not yet clear. Brennan told Poker News Daily, “The Budget Committee may take a look at it since it would impact the budget. However, because that’s on the other side of the referendum and laws have to be crafted first, they might decline further action at this time.” Monday’s hearing that paved the way for a possible referendum lasted 90 minutes.

Casino giant Harrah’s opposes Lesniak’s sports betting and internet gambling bills, according to Brennan, and instead seeks a federal solution. The Press of Atlantic City notes that a version of the sports betting bill in the New Jersey Assembly was supposed to be discussed concurrently on Monday, “but was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.” Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) has been championing a federal solution on Capitol Hill, as a bill to legalize and regulate the internet gambling industry in the United States (HR 2267) boasts 65 co-sponsors and may be marked up this month in the House Financial Services Committee.

In 2009, iMEGA was unsuccessful in overturning the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals instead ruled that the legality of internet gambling depends on the jurisdictions of the customer and website. In addition, the Court noted that the UIGEA made no activity like online poker illegal. The bill’s passage in 2006 caused a multitude of publicly traded companies like Party Gaming, 888, and bwin to vacate the U.S. market in deference to shareholder interests.

Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest poker legislation headlines from New Jersey and around the world.

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