NJ Gov. Christie Vetoes Intrastate Online Poker Legislation

by Lou on March 5, 2011

New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie (pictured left) vetoed a proposal to legalize online gambling within the state’s borders. Christie believes the bill would violate New Jersey’s constitution, and his veto message said he was concerned that the bill would expand gambling “in a manner that is contrary to public sentiment,” and face “several significant legal obstacles.”   A press release from the governor called the bill “inconsistent” with his administration’s commitment of revitalizing Atlantic City’s tourism and gaming industries.”

Christie, who has Presidential ambitions, supported “the intent” of the bill to make New Jersey a more competitive gaming jurisdiction, saying, “I wholeheartedly support the intentions of the legislature to make New Jersey a more competitive gaming jurisdiction. However, I do not believe that internet gambling as contemplated in S490 is a viable option for continuing the progress that we have made so far in reversing the fortunes of the casino industry in New Jersey.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that New Jersey’s bill was opposed by Caesars Entertainment, which has four casinos in Atlantic City and is a political force in the state.

“Caesars is against the state-by-state approach to legalizing Web gambling because the company is hoping to successfully pressure the federal government to create a regulated nationwide system, which would be both more simple to manage and much more profitable for the company,” the newspaper reported. “Caesars, which owns the popular World Series of Poker brand, believes it could gain a 20 percent share of the $5 billion online poker market if it were legalized federally.”

According to the New Jersey legislature, the vetoed bill will have be proposed and debated in committee once again, pass through both the Senate and Assembly by a two-thirds majority, followed by a public referendum in November for it to become law.

New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak pledged to bring internet gaming legislation back to the Governor’s desk, saying, “While the Governor expressed concern with some aspects of the bill today, he’s committed to the general idea that we have to expand gaming product in order to bring our gaming industry back from the brink of fiscal insolvency.”

He added, “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, 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.”

With New Jersey folding their tent, at least for the time being, that leaves Iowa, Florida, and California in a three-way race to be the first state to authorize intrastate wagering.  While one state authorizing online, instate wagering is a far cry from a sweeping mandate, it is a point of departure, and I’d expect other states to follow the leader in short order once one state—any state—opens the door to intrastate gaming and allows the camel to get its nose under the tent.

In Iowa, a proposal that applies only to online poker is eligible for a vote before the full Iowa Senate.  Iowa state senator Rick Bertrand, (R-Sioux City), said states need to set up legal online gambling within their borders to secure to prevent a federal tax grab.

“If we don’t make a move now,” Bertrand said, “the federal government is going to make a move in the next few years, and we’ll lose the revenue to the federal government.”

Thus far, only the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort has come out in support of the bill. Other Iowa casinos studying the bill include the Isle of Capri Casinos, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Diamond Jo, Mystique Casino, Ameristar Casino, Penn National Gaming and Great River Entertainment.

Former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, chairman of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the leading poker grassroots advocacy group with more than one million members nationwide, issued this statement following New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s veto: “It is with mixed feelings that the PPA notes the veto by Governor Christie of legislation to provide for the licensing and regulation of Internet gaming, including poker.

“We firmly believe that licensing and regulating online poker is the best and most effective way to protect consumers, protect Americans’ Internet freedom and generate much needed revenue. However, the PPA also firmly believes that given the borderless nature of the Internet, these interests would be best served by Federal legislation that would provide licensing and regulation of interstate poker, as opposed to state-by-state regulation, whereby players in New Jersey could only play with other players in the Garden State.

“The actions by New Jersey and other states to push for needed licensing and regulation at the state level should serve as a wake-up call to the U.S. Congress that there is public support to create a safe, regulated online gaming market place and that it is time for them to act.

“We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Lesniak and the other proponents of the bill for recognizing that it is time for Internet poker to be licensed and regulated in this country, and we hope federal legislators will follow their example.”

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