TRENTON - Blackjack, baccarat, craps, and other casino games featured in Atlantic City could become available on the Internet under a bill released Thursday by the state Senate's wagering and tourism committee.
The bill would allow the city's 11 casinos to create websites for New Jerseyans to bet online. The state would regulate the sites and reap 20 percent of the revenue in taxes.
The sponsor, Sen. Ray Lesniak, said the bill would allow New Jersey to cash in on the online gambling market. He said an estimated 500,000 New Jersey residents who had accounts with online poker sites collectively wagered about $150 million a year.
"This bill will provide an astounding number of revenues and jobs for the state of N.J. for our casinos who are struggling and for reinvestment in Atlantic City," said Lesniak (D., Union).
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeny (D., Gloucester) is to decide whether to bring the bill up for a floor vote. The bill has not been considered in the Assembly.
Federal law prohibits government-regulated online betting across state lines, but industry advocates told New Jersey lawmakers that the day would soon come when online betting sites overseen by government regulators were available worldwide.
"Establishing intrastate Internet gaming for state residents," said William Pascrell III, a lobbyist for the online entertainment industry, "will enable New Jersey to funnel new and existing online players into sites licensed through Atlantic City's casinos, capturing previously lost tax revenue and offering New Jersey casinos a new channel for driving traffic to the resorts."
Dan Orla, an economist with the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, said New Jersey could become a leader in the field if it acted quickly. He said lawmakers in Florida and California had introduced online gambling bills; the first state to market has a competitive edge as the industry grows, he said.
IMEGA chief executive Joe Brennan Jr. estimated that online gambling would bring 1,500 high-tech jobs to South Jersey.
The head of the Casino Association of New Jersey did not return a call for comment.
Harrahs has gone on record opposing the proposal.
Another opponent, Barbara DeMarco, who represents New Jersey's Thoroughbred Owners Association, said online gambling would mean even more competition for the state's battered horse-racing industry.
"I would like to know how is this not going to impact racing if we're allowing me to bet from my living room or from my laptop at Monmouth Park," she said.
A provision allowing racetrack operators to join with casino operators to create betting rooms at the horse tracks has been deleted from the bill.
DeMarco said it would be unfair to allow casinos to operate track rooms while barring tracks from having casino rooms.
The bill was released by a 4-1 vote. The lone dissenter, Sen. Shirley Turner (D., Mercer), said that despite the promise of additional revenue for a depleted state treasury, she was concerned that teenagers would gain access to online gambling sites and worried about additional compulsive gamblers.
"It may be short-term gain for long-term pain," she said.