TRENTON - Gov. Christie made regulatory oversight - especially safeguards for those who are underage and additional funding for treatment of compulsive gamblers - key to his signing off on the bill that legalized Internet gaming in New Jersey.
On Wednesday, a forum on "Responsible Gambling for the Future" at the Statehouse Annex, far from the glamour and glitz of Atlantic City, addressed those issues and others.
The forum's goal, said Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, was to come up with a tenable five-year work plan among all sectors involved as gaming options proliferate - a process that "will ultimately lead to an expanded system of prevention, awareness, early intervention, and treatment services for persons at risk of gambling addiction."
The panel discussion was moderated by Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, and featured members of the regulatory, gambling, academic, criminal-justice, and public-health sectors, including state Casino Control Commission Chairman Matthew Levinson.
"We all recognize here that there is a certain percentage of the population that are pathological gamblers and need treatment," said David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. "It's maybe 1 percent out there, but only 7 to 10 percent of that group will even seek treatment. . . ."
About 350,000 New Jerseyans are at risk, according to panel members.
Gary Schneider, 58, of Plainfield, a gambling addict for more than 20 years, offered this perspective: "The compulsive gambler is able to closet his or her feelings and emotions. Did my friends and family know I had a problem? Yes. Did they know by how much? No."
New Jersey is positioned to be a leader in raising awareness of gambling problems and treatment services, Schneider said.
"We have a responsibility to look at ourselves and grasp this opportunity that Christie put in front of us," he said.
Only two other states have legalized some form of Internet gaming: Nevada and Delaware. An online-gaming bill for Pennsylvania was introduced in Harrisburg last month.
Atlantic City, which has exclusive rights to gambling in New Jersey, introduced handheld gaming devices last summer.
After passing on the measure last year, Christie signed off in February on allowing Internet gaming from servers housed at the Shore's 12 casinos.
But in doing so, he said he wanted assurances including tight oversight, annual reviews of the activity for 10 years, and more resources to treat compulsive gambling.
In a conditional veto of the legislation Feb. 7, the governor said, "Our state cannot carelessly create a new generation of addicted gamers, sitting in their homes, using laptops or iPads, gambling their salaries and their futures."
After lawmakers tweaked the bill, he signed it into law Feb. 26.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement is drafting regulations for I-gaming.
Once they are approved, individuals within New Jersey's borders will be able to gamble anytime online with laptops, iPads, iPhones, or other handheld devices.