On Thursday, February 7th, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a bill that would've made the state the third in the country to legalize online gambling. There is still hope for those that yearn for the chance to play online though, as Christie stated that he would gladly ratify the bill if it included provisions for a ten year trial period and higher tax rates for casinos.
New Jersey, and Atlantic City in particular, are hopeful of their chances in legalizing online gambling, as they believe it would be a huge boon to the state's economy. Eric Hollreiser, a spokesperson for The Rational Group, said as much in a statement approving of Governor Christie's actions. As of right now, Delaware and Nevada remain the only two states that have legalized online gambling. Given the popularity of online gambling, it seems it's only a matter of time before other states follow suit.
PokerStars, a popular online gambling site, recently faced U.S. civil charges back in April of 2011 for allegedly operating illegally. After reaching a settlement, PokerStars was able to relaunch its website, but not without paying a hefty sum to the U.S. government. With their legal troubles in the past, PokerStars seeks to acquire the poorly performing Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City once New Jersey passes its online gambling bill. With support from the state and a physical location to its name, PokerStars might signal the wave of an online gambling future in the United States.
In terms of specifics for the bill that Christie vetoed, one of the points of contention from his office was on the rate that casinos should have their winnings taxed: the governor wishes to see it raised from ten percent to as high as fifteen percent. Christie hopes to see his demands met soon, as he has noted that there has been decline in earnings from the economic giant of New Jersey. It is estimated that over the past six years, New Jersey's annual revenue from casinos has fallen over two billion dollars. Gaming and tourism have been suffering in New Jersey, but lawmakers are convinced that online gambling will inject interest back into the dying economy (click here).
With time against them, as well as pressure from the governor himself, state lawmakers are confident that they'll be able to draft up a new bill with the required changes in time to get it passed by March of this year. Christie has noted that should the bill be passed, it will be the biggest state reform of gambling to go into effect since 1978 when the first casino was built in New Jersey. The bill is not without its detractors though. People fear that legalizing online gambling will actually decrease tourism revenue, as people will have no inclination to leave their home if they can gamble from the convenience of their computer. In addition, the ease of accessibility internet gambling provides could increase the number of "gambling addicts" in the state.
David Weinbaum, the executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling in New Jersey, estimated that there are roughly three hundred thousand compulsive gamblers in the state, and that the passing of a bill that legalizes online gambling could see this number skyrocket even more.
As a result, Chris Christie wishes to also increase funding for gambling rehabilitation programs in order to curb potential social consequences of the bill passing. Finally, the governor wants a yearly analysis of the effect of games on children and adults to be conducted in order to ensure online gambling will have a minimal impact on the citizens of his state.
The legalization of online gambling won't be without its share of regulation though, as the bill is also facing demands to ensure transparency from companies that would seek a gambling license from the state. Lawmakers want to protect consumers while giving them the freedom to enjoy the games they devote their time to. This is not the first attempt by New Jersey state lawmakers to get a bill passed that would legalize online gambling. Back in March of 2011, Christie vetoed a similar bill, but for different reasons. The governor was worried that such a bill might not be entirely constitutional, as well as the ethical concerns of the state's citizens possibly being taken advantage of. Christie conjured images of illegal casinos forming with backroom dealings. Such dealings would be especially difficult to find and prosecute should they only exist online.
In order to address these previous concerns, this new bill proposed penalties to anyone attempting to exploit online gambling. It accomplished this by including provisions for severe fines towards anyone caught hosting such an illegal casino as defined by the bill.
Of particular interest to anyone with a personal stake in the new bill, the legalization of internet gambling would include all games, without a specific focus on anyone type, such as Texas Hold'em. While online casinos in other countries supporting a wide range of games is nothing new, it is of worthy note as only two states in the United States have passed a similar bill. Bills such as this being passed in New Jersey would set a precedent for neighboring states to follow suit. This means that the more support a bill like this draws, that allows for games of all kind, the more likely it will be that other states also support games other than poker over the internet.
With the future of online gambling coming to fruition in the state of New Jersey, it's more important that ever to reach out to your local congressman and let him know your position. Even if change must come one state at a time, bills that legalize internet gambling are essential to providing citizens of the United States the freedom that they are promised.