An Internet gambling bill working its way through the New Jersey Legislature would let Atlantic City casinos take bets from gamblers in other states and even other countries, as long as federal and state authorities agree it's legal.
The measure was approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee.
"This is another step forward toward my goal of New Jersey becoming the Silicon Valley of Internet gaming, generating hundreds of millions in revenues for our casino industry, thousands of jobs for Atlantic City, and tens of millions of revenues for our Casino Revenue Fund to help seniors and the disabled," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union), the bill's most vocal supporter.
Still, the bill faces an array of obstacles, including possible legal challenges, lingering concerns on the part of Gov. Christie, and a demand by supporters of horse racing that the state's tracks be allowed to offer Internet gambling as well.
New Jersey has been racing to try to get Internet gambling up and running and stake a claim to leadership in a potential multibillion-dollar industry. The bill, which now heads to the full Senate for a vote, would allow bets to be accepted from other states and nations if the state Division of Gaming Enforcement determines that it doesn't violate federal laws. Internet gambling revenue would be taxed at 10 percent, up from the 8 percent casinos pay on regular slot and table games revenue.
New Jersey was poised to become the first state last year to offer in-state Internet gambling, but Christie vetoed the bill. The Republican governor expressed doubts about its legality and worried about the possible proliferation of "Internet cafés" and backroom betting joints.
Lawmakers took a number of steps to address Christie's concerns, including prohibiting advertising and organizing Internet gambling by anyone except casinos, and requiring that the computer servers that handle the bets be located in Atlantic City to comply with a state constitutional requirement that all casino gambling take place in that city.
And the U.S. Justice Department in December ruled that in-state online bets - not involving sports teams - do not violate federal law.
But the language of the new bill says people in other states or even other countries could log on to servers and place bets with Atlantic City casinos, provided the gaming enforcement division gives its blessing and such activity is legal in the place where the bettor is located. It also holds out the possibility of out-of-state bets "if such wagering is conducted pursuant to an interstate compact to which this state is a party that is not inconsistent with federal law."
Robert Griffin, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the group planned to meet Tuesday night to discuss the new legislation. He declined to comment on it. His company is one of many casino firms preparing for Internet gambling should it become legal.
A spokesman for Christie did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the bill's expanded scope.
Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, said the financial gains of Internet gambling would come at the expense of tracks, which have been declining since casino gambling began in New Jersey in 1978. He said a popular vote in November to endorse sports betting at both casinos and racetracks - if a federal ban can be overturned - shows the public wants both industries to succeed.