03/06/2012 : NEW JERSEY ONLINE GAMBLING BILL ADVANCES
State Senate committee passes new Lesniak measure despite horserace operato opposition
New Jersey came back into focus this week when a state Senate committee advanced a new online gambling legalization bill introduced by diehard legislator Senator Ray Lesniak.
The committee progressed the measure despite opposition from the horse racing industry that included the threat of legal action.
Lesniak, a Democrat, was joined in his latest attempt to legalise online gambling in New Jersey by fellow Democrat Senator Jim Whelan, and the duo agreed to delete elements of the bill benefitting horseracing in a bid to gain Gov. Chris Christie's approval this time around. The governor reportedly wants any benefits to go to the struggling Atlantic City land casinos.
The deletions outraged horseracing interests, with lobbyist Barbara DeMarco warning that the change could lead to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of expanded gambling in the state. She said that Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course officials don’t like the legalization and will not support it.
Representatives of the Meadowlands Racetrack and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey also told reporters they are against the bill.
“We believe it will draw from existing wagering pools,” said Tom Luchento, president of the horsemen’s group.
Speaking for the bill, Sen. Whelan, said any delay in passing it could be costly in New Jersey’s bid to have first-in-the nation online poker and other internet gaming.
“I feel like I’m being blackmailed,” Whelan said. “I‘m open to discussion but I don’t like a gun being put to my head and being told, ‘You will do this or else we will blow this whole thing up.’”
Governor Christie said later at a press conference that members of his administration are “in constant meetings” with lawmakers and their staffs on the proposal, though he claimed he had not yet been briefed on progress.
“I have great personal interest in it and want to see what they’re working on and hope we get to a point where we can overcome some of the concerns that I had when the bill was passed [in 2011] before when I issued a conditional veto,” the Republican governor said. “We’re in constant meetings. We had a great meeting with Sen. Lesniak last week. He’s working hard with us.”
The Senate Government and Wagering Committee passed the bill in a 3-0 vote with two abstentions despite the warning from the horsemen.
Last year the state Legislature passed a similar Lesniak bill 32-4 in the state Senate and 63-11 in the Assembly (see previous InfoPowa reports), but was thwarted by the exercise of the governor's veto, which cited “legal and constitutional concerns.”
The old problem of wether the Legislature's decision should go to a referendum of New Jersey residents has surfaced again regarding the measure. Last year New Jersey residents were asked to vote on the acceptability of online sportsbetting, and gave a ‘yea' response.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, vice chairman of the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, said this week that the need for a referendum was under consideration.
“We want to establish a clear legislative record to see if we need to go to the voters,” said Burzichelli, who added that the group would meet again next week to hear from an expert on the state Constitution.
According to the state Constitution, no gambling can be conducted outside of Atlantic City except betting on horse racing and buying lottery tickets.