01/03/2012 : Internet gambling proponent Sen. Ray Lesniak intends to capitalise on the DoJ turnabout
One of online gambling's doughtiest supporters, New Jersey Senator Ray Lesniak, intends to capitalise on the US Department of Justice change of policy on online gambling by immediately pushing for intrastate legalization as 2012 starts out.
Speaking to the Associated Press news agency Monday, Lesniak said that he'll try to get a bill through the Legislature and on Governor Chris Christie's desk as early as next week. The goal is to make New Jersey the national leader in online gambling, now that the federal government says in-state bets do not violate the law, he said.
"We can be the Silicon Valley of Internet gaming," Lesniak asserted. "It's the wave of the future. It's going to come and we can be in the lead on it."
The energetic Senator tried to propel New Jersey into the position of first in the USA to approve Internet gambling last year, and managed to get his bill through both House and Senate with solid majorities, only to be thwarted by Gov. Christie, who exercised his absolute veto on the measure.
Christie spokesmen would not comment on his position regarding any new attempt. A spokesman for Senate leadership said it won't be clear until today (Tuesday) whether there's enough support to move forward quickly on the bill, and a spokesman for the House of Assembly leadership said leaders would listen to Lesniak's request before deciding on a course of action.
Lesniak introduced a new bill in August 2011 that he says contains safeguards to address Christie's concerns, including fines of $1,000 per player per day for anyone running an illegal Internet betting parlour, and $10,000 for advertising such illicit operations.
Bettors would have to be New Jersey residents at least 21 years old, and physically be in the state. Lesniak says existing software could verify those requirements.
So far, the bill is not scheduled for a vote on January 9, the last day of the current state legislative session. Lesniak said he is trying to secure approval from Assembly and Senate leaders to have it approved in committees this Thursday, then finally approved on January 9 and sent to Christie.
He said he expects to determine on Tuesday whether sufficient support exists to fast-track the bill through the Legislature in the closing days of the session.
"I got it through last year with overwhelming support," he recalled.
Robert Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the trade group is scheduled to discuss the matter Tuesday night. Last year, he said that money currently going to offshore online betting operations could benefit New Jersey.
Trump Entertainment Resorts announced plans last year to set up an Internet gambling operation as soon as it becomes legal to do so.
The Lesniak bill says only the Atlantic City casinos will be empowered to offer Internet gambling in New Jersey, requiring the computer servers to be physically located in Atlantic City to comply with state law mandating that all New Jersey casino gambling occur there. Gamblers would have to set up online wagering accounts with the casinos.
The bill also contains a provision intended to gain the support of the state's horse racing tracks, reinstating two-thirds of the subsidies the casinos had to pay to the tracks until last year. The casinos once had to pay $30 million a year to the tracks in return for keeping slot machines out of the tracks. Lesniak's bill would require that Internet betting licensees pay $20 million a year for three years to help increase race purses and help the tracks through a difficult period.
Internet gambling revenue would be taxed at 10 percent instead of the current 8 percent on traditional casino revenue.
The bill also would allocate $100,000 a year from online gambling proceeds to fund programs for compulsive gamblers. People with gambling problems would be able to set limits on how much they could bet or lose within a specific time frame.