“We want to take the lead,” said New Jersey state senator Sen. Raymond Lesniak (pictured left), a sponsor of the bill that would legalize online poker in New Jersey. “We don’t want Nevada to take the lead.” His bill cleared the state Assembly’s gambling committee yesterday, as lawmakers race to make New Jersey the first state that allows Internet betting.
Lesniak said the state has already lost out on about $200 million because Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoed a similar bill last year. But since then the US Department of Justice opened the door to internet wagering, and sent the Garden State’s lawmakers scrambling to enact legislation.
New Jersey estimates an additional $300 million to $400 in gambling revenue for the state if the bill becomes law, along with the construction of $150 million to $300 million of data centers to handle the traffic.
But it’s not all smooth sailing. Lesniak is concerned that Gov. Chris Christie’s political ambitions are getting in the way of his previous support for Internet gambling legislation in the state.
Christie has been talked about as a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and is also in line for a position in Romney’s administration if the former Massachusetts governor is successful in November.
After vetoing Internet gambling legislation last year, Christie reversed himself in January and now supports allowing Atlantic City casinos to host online gambling websites. Christie’s reversal encouraged Lesniak to reintroduce his bill. Although Christie’s wavering could affect Republican votes, Lesniak said they aren’t needed for the bill to pass in the Democrat-controlled New Jersey legislature.
“We’ll have it on his desk before the end of June,” Lesniak said. “He’ll have to fish or cut bait at that time.”
According to Lesniak, Christie can always say, “I did what was right for my state. I’m not asking any other state to do it. I wouldn’t support it at the federal level, but for New Jersey it’s the right thing to do.”