Saying “now is the time for our state to move forward, again leading the way for the nation, by becoming one of the first states to permit Internet gaming,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ironically once again this week vetoed his state’s latest draft of an Internet gambling statute. Citing concerns over gambling tax revenue rates being set too low, as well as over transparency issues for companies seeking online gambling licensure, Christie nonetheless showed a glimmer of hope for passage of revised versions of the bill to come, possibly as early as March.
Both State Sen. Raymond Lesniak and State Assemblyman John Amodeo were encouraged by Christie’s wording in vetoing the bill, noting that “the governor’s concerns can easily be addressed” with a newly worded measure.
At stake are millions of dollars in potential revenue, particularly key in a state whose brick-and-mortar casinos took a heavy hit last year, at least in part due to the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. Also affecting New Jersey’s ailing land casino market is hard-hitting competition from gambling-friendly neighboring states like Pennsylvania and New York. Revenues have been falling steadily since 2006, and hit a low of just over $3 billion last year from a 2006 total of $5.2 billion.
Perhaps smelling blood from the veto action, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval quickly pressed his state’s lawmakers to approve a bill that would let companies in the Silver State offering online poker (which will most likely launch this year) the option of accepting wagers from players in other states. He has pressed his legislators to come up with something workable within the next 30 days, and appointed Assemblyman William Horne to manage the new Bill 5, possibly sensing that New Jersey online players will be jonesing for a hit once they see their Western counterparts legally online.
Christie, meanwhile, continued his come-here, go-away stance with the measure, citing additional concerns over whether “…this type of convenience gaming will lead to declines in tourism, and a loss of visitors to the region.” He said he also has ongoing apprehensions over the potential for enabling and creating more compulsive gamblers in a state that currently has an estimated 350,000 such players already. The state’s Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey has also expressed worries about the bill, noting that existing treatment and prevention programs for problem gamblers are already underfunded. A provision in the vetoed bill would have made any company holding an Internet gambling license pony up $150,000 that would be pooled into compulsive gambling treatment and prevention programs.
In what may prove to be a near photo-finish race, New Jersey legislators must now keep up with Nevada’s push and get something on the table that Christie can digest more easily. He has said that along with his other concerns, he wants to see the tax rate on winnings boosted from 10 to 15 percent, and an included 10-year trial period to assess the new measure’s impact included in the revised bill.
Let the games begin.