Update: Online Gambling Becomes More Attractive With November Referendum in Prospect
Despite the opposition of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, politicians in the state seem very keen to expand the gambling opportunities because of millions of tax revenue in prospect. Therefore, there are three political initiatives underway in the Garden State.
The first is the legalization of online gambling, which state Senator Ray Lesniak has been trying to implement through both the Assembly and the Senate in New Jersey, achieving convincing bi-partisan support but facing the governor's veto.
In September, Lesniak reintroduced legislation on authorizing online gaming in Atlantic City and added a provision prohibiting restaurants, hotels, bars and other businesses from advertising online gaming to prevent them from entering the market and expanding gambling online beyond Atlantic City. He also had the idea how to help save the state's poor horseracing industry by proposing the allocation of a portion of casino profits to the state’s racetracks.
"Online gaming will be a huge boost for the casino industry. It can also be a temporary saviour for our horse racing industry until we get sports betting at our casinos and race tracks," Lesniak claimed. But the governor was sceptic again saying that the New Jersey casinos should not support an industry that cannot support itself.
The second initiative underway is to overturn the federal Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibits expansion of sports wagering, in order to permit regulated sports betting in New Jersey. Now, both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers are on the same tracks to make the appropriate changes to the state constitution and a referendum of state residents will be required, which have been already placed on the ballot for November 8.
If residents agree, the framing of appropriate legislation will be required, so Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee is drafting a measure to allow betting on non-college sports teams at Atlantic City casinos and at two specified racetracks. After those steps are taken, the state could go to court in an attempt to overturn the federal ban.
Still the governor could be an obstacle, saying he is not sure yet where he would stand in the event of a positive vote for sportsbetting in the November referendum.
There might be a potential conflict on how the rewards of sports betting should be allocated: according to the New Jersey media, Joseph Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, proposes that the revenue from sports betting should go only to the casinos. In opposition to that, state Sen. Jim Whelan, chairman of the gaming committee, warned he would deny his support to legalized sports betting if the profits were not spread around the state.
The third initiative is to make available video slots at horseracing tracks outside Atlantic City and to help them raise popularity and prizes which went down by 74% between 1977 and 2009, according to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
The governor is asked to reconsider his opposition to video lottery terminals outside Atlantic City, and many bi-partisan politicians, the supporters of the idea, say it could generate $500 million to $700 million in net revenue for the state.
"The states all along our borders have slots and other forms of convenience gaming located at their racing facilities,” Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said recently. "It’s time New Jersey began thinking along those lines before we see more farms downsize or close."
Everyone with interest in the horseracing business have pointed out that the state will take a serious loss in funds if the racetracks are allowed to founder. According to a 2007 report by the Rutgers Equine Science Center, the industry in question pumps $1.1 billion annually into the state economy, and provides 13,000 jobs.
Ralph Caputo, a member of the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, best summarises the pressure for action on the problems facing New Jersey gambling:
"We can no longer afford to keep our heads in the sand and pretend that we do not have direct competition to our Atlantic City casinos in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York This becomes even more of an economic push for us to do something in New Jersey."
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