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Kevin Smith

New Jersey Bill on Hold for Now

20 November 2001

Proponents of a bill that would lay the foundation for bringing Atlantic City casinos to the Internet felt it was one step forward and two steps back yesterday in Trenton.

The Commerce, Tourism, Gaming and Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held its first hearing on a bill that would allow Atlantic City casinos to carry real-time card table games via the Internet.

"I think it is important that we have this kind of serious dialogue about an initiative I see on the horizon, and many see on the horizon, and we just want to make sure that Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey are out front on this initiative."
- Assemblyman Nicholas Asselta

The committee conducted the hearing mainly to educate the members on the technology that could be implemented if the bill is passed. After more than an hour of demonstrations and testimony, the committee decided to table the bill until another hearing can be set up. The current legislative session ends on Jan. 15, and there are no more hearings scheduled for the bill during the remainder of the session.

Assemblyman Nicholas Asselta, one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill will be introduced during the next session and the committee will again pick up the process.

The measure would not change existing laws against wagering on Internet casinos. It would, however, limit Internet wagering from distant locations to "real time" play only.

Monday's hearing included a demonstration from i2Corp, a Las Vegas-based firm which holds a patent on real-time gaming conducted over the Internet.

Lloyd Levenson, i2Corp's legal counsel who conducted the majority of the hearing, said there was a feeling among the members that the issue needed to be looked at more.

"A couple of them were ready to let it go and move it forward, but most of them wanted to study it more and want to have more hearings," he said. "They want to know what the various casinos think about it too."

Asselta, who was hoping to get the bill out of committee and maybe even put before the entire Assembly before the session ends, conceded that the bill will have to be reintroduced next session.

"I am disappointed that a vote wasn't taken," he said. "I was hoping the bill would move to the next step. I think it is important that we have this kind of serious dialogue about an initiative I see on the horizon, and many see on the horizon, and we just want to make sure that Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey are out front on this initiative."

Levenson, who is based in New Jersey, said the New Jersey legislature has a history of taking new concepts slowly.

"The legislative assembly in New Jersey believes they need more time in order to understand the whole concept of Internet gaming and how the state could benefit from it," he said. "They pointed to the fact that when they were considering OTB facilities in the state it took them several hearings and many, many months to get passed."

The introduction of the bill comes at a time when New Jersey will be getting a new governor who was elected under the banner of passing a budget in the Garden State that would address its $600 million deficit without raising taxes.

There are many hot-button issues within the state right now, and Internet gambling ranks near the bottom of the list. But those in favor of the bill feel the current state of New Jersey's economy could actually propel the bill to passage.

"The new governor in New Jersey is going to inherit some fiscal problems and no one is denying that," Levenson said. "This will be one of the potential ways to shore up the budget issues."

Asselta, who takes a similar stance on the issue, said that getting others to see Internet gambling as a way for New Jersey to create new revenue streams is his toughest battle.

"The philosophy, as I see it, is the creation of a whole new marketplace," he said. "My colleagues feel it is the dilution of a marketplace and the possible elimination of job opportunities in Atlantic City and I see it just the opposite.

"That philosophy of creating a whole new marketplace of people who have never been to Atlantic City and have no desire to go to Atlantic City for various reasons is hard for some to understand," he said. "You will be creating an opportunity and another service that wasn't there previously that can generate funds, tax dollars and create jobs."

Not only is New Jersey in financial trouble, but gambling dollars that used to be secured in only Nevada and Atlantic City are starting to head elsewhere.

"New Jersey has some competitive issues to start dealing with that it didn't have a couple months ago," Levenson said. "With New York coming along, MGM going out of the country to embark on an Internet project and Nevada passing its bill, there are a lot of options out there for gaming companies."

While many of the bill's advocates weren't thrilled with the results from Monday's hearing, Levenson said the bill could have had a worse fate.

"They didn't deny it," he pointed out, "and they didn't turn it down."

So for now, regulated Internet gambling in New Jersey remains a possibility, but the outlook for the immediate future is the same as that of Nevada: It's not going to happen anytime soon.

New Jersey Bill on Hold for Now is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith