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Christie signs bill legalizing online gambling

TMCNet:  Christie signs bill legalizing online gambling

[February 26, 2013]

Christie signs bill legalizing online gambling

Feb 26, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Atlantic City's gambling houses can now begin offering betting on Internet versions of the slot machines and table games found on their traditional casino floors. The New Jersey Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly approved Internet gaming legislation Tuesday, and Gov. Christie signed it into law.

New Jersey joins Nevada and Delaware as the only three states in the country in which some form of online wagering is legal.

"I am pleased to say that today I signed New Jersey's Internet gaming bill, opening the way for new opportunity to bolster our efforts to continue the revival of Atlantic City, its casinos, and entertainment offerings," Christie said in a statement just after 5:30 p.m. "This was a critical decision, and one that I did not make lightly.

"But with the proper regulatory framework and safeguards that I insisted on including in the bill, I am confident that we are offering a responsible, yet exciting option that will make Atlantic City more competitive while also bringing financial benefits to New Jersey as a whole." The Republican governor conditionally vetoed the bill Feb. 7, as he sought revisions to ensure that it Internet gaming would be properly regulated. He wanted I-gaming subject to 10-year trial period, with an annual review; state elected officials to disclose any past and present dealings of entities seeking or holding Internet gaming licenses; more resources toward problem gambling programs; and boosting the tax on gross online gaming revenue to 15 percent from 10 percent, resulting in a bigger cut for the state.

All those changes were incorporated into the bill, and the legislation easily sailed through both houses (68-5-1 in the Asembly) and (35-1 in the Senate) in Trenton before Christie's scheduled 3 p.m. state budget address to a joint session of the Legislature.

"It's another piece," said state Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester), the legislation's prime sponsor in the Assembly after the vote there. "The landscape, the market, and the world continue to change. We will do more commerce online today and more tomorrow.

"This is the ultimate form of convenience gaming," he said. "Atlantic City will pick up some of what is being done illegally now. But now it will be done in a legal environment. The resort will be able to renew some relationships (with customers) that have drifted away. This will be another tool to attract people to Atlatnic City." Under the state Constitution, Atlantic City has exclusivity on gambling, and why the servers for online gaming must be housed at the dozen Shore casinos, said Burzichelli.

But only the servers are based there, a patron can gamble online anytime, and from anywhere, just as long as he or she is within the state's borders with a laptop, iPhone, iPad, or other handheld computer device.

How it works, said Pepper Hamilton LLP online gambling attorney Jeremy Frey, is that you log onto a website operated and owned any of the 12 A.C. casinos. You can begin play after you pass the security protocols to confirm your age (21 or older), casino account, and other information, and the GPS technology confirms that you are located in New Jersey at the time you are gambling.

"Internet gaming is a great thing," said Dimakis Kalogerakos, 44, a small business owner from Margate, as he worked a penny slot machine at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City last Friday. "It will boost revenue. It is another option...but it will not save Atlantic City from its downturn.

"It will help," he said. "It's another avenue, just like sportsbetting will be a good option." Atlantic City's 12 casinos -- including the Borgata which last week became the first casino in the United States to offer in-room gambling from a TV remote control -- have been preparing for Internet gaming.

Supporters say it can raise an additional $250 million to $300 million in annual revenue for the battered resort that has lost substantial bricks-and-mortar casino revenue to Pennsylvania and New York the last six years.

"The objectives for the continued stabilization, development and success of Atlantic City that Gov. Christie and our legislature has facilitated over the past couple of years have taken a significant step forward today with the passage of Internet gaming," Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the collective voice of the Atlantic City casino industry, said in a statement.

Nevada became the first state to legalize intrastate online poker last summer.

Delaware legalized online wagering at its three racetrack casinos in late June, but the state has yet to launch it. In January it issued a 150-page Request for Proposal for vendors to supply the technology, software, support staff, marketing and payment method. Delaware hopes to have online gambling up and running by Sept. 30, said Tom Cook, its secretary of finance.

"This is a complex type of arrangment ... and not done in a few weeks," Cook said Tuesday. "If there are any missteps, there is the potential to lose the trust of the patrons".

Similar to Delaware, New Jersey will need to install the GPS tracking software to tell if a patron is gambling online from strictly New Jersey. Such software can identify the source of a signal within a few feet.

The new law also allows New Jersey to enter into interstate online compacts with Nevada and Delaware for online poker tournaments and other states that move to legalize the activity. Earlier this week, California introduced legislation for online poker.

State Sen. Jim Whelan, whose district includes Atlantic City, said the addition of online wagering will prevent at least one A.C. casino from closing -- the tiny Atlantic Club -- which is being bought by an online gaming company. The financially ailing casino's employees and management lobbied hard for Christie to sign off on Internet gaming or otherwise face possible closure.

"This saves 3,000-plus jobs in Atlantic City in the short term," Whelan said.

"Long term, New Jersey is now positioned to be at the forefront of a national phenomenon.

"In a few years, we will see a proliferation of Internet gaming, and we want New Jersey to be the hub." Ryan Kaufman, 29, a defense attorney from New York City, who plays online poker, said it would benefit the Shore resort where stayed last weekend for a bachelor party.

"Definitely, it's a good thing," he siad. "It's another way to bring people to Atlantic City." -- Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

___ (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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