The Story of Online Gambling Legislation in New Jersey

On February 26, 2013, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill into law, legalizing online gambling in the state. The road to this milestone was a long and arduous one, and this article will delve into what can only be described as the Saga of New Jersey's Online Gambling Legislation. The origins of this online gambling saga in New Jersey can be traced back to January 2010, when Democratic Senator Ray Lesniak introduced a bill that would allow Atlantic City casinos to offer online versions of their games, such as poker, blackjack, and baccarat, both within and outside the United States. In June 2010, the bill was approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee. Almost immediately, disputes arose. The New Jersey Casino Association opposed state regulation of online gambling and advocated for federal regulation instead. The racing tracks and betting establishments wanted authorization to offer slot machines on their premises. Conflicting bills were being debated in the state Senate and Assembly. Senator Lesniak stated that all sectors of the gambling industry were in dire straits and trying to gain an advantage at the expense of others. However, he agreed to hold off on his bill until all issues were discussed and some consensus was reached. Subsequently, the bill was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in November 2010. The bill was expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of that year. Senator Lesniak pointed out that revenues and jobs were going to offshore gambling operators. Legalizing online gambling in New Jersey would redirect those revenues and jobs to the state and its people. In January 2011, the bill was also passed by the New Jersey Assembly. The bill was sent to Governor Christie for signature, and New Jersey was poised to become the first American jurisdiction to legalize online gambling. However, in March 2011, Christie vetoed the bill. He praised the bill's intentions but voiced concerns about loopholes in the law. He stated that the requirement for online gambling operators' servers to be located in Atlantic City did not comply with New Jersey's constitutional requirement that casino gaming be restricted to Atlantic City. He also opposed the possibility of commercial establishments outside Atlantic City offering online gambling. Senator Lesniak responded by stating that he would work with the Governor's office to expedite the implementation of online gambling. In August 2011, Senator Lesniak introduced another online gambling bill after addressing the concerns raised by Governor Christie. The progress was much slower than anticipated. It was approved by the Senate and Assembly Committees only in April and May 2012, respectively. However, at that time, it was deemed that there was not enough support for the bill, and therefore, votes in the Senate and Assembly were postponed. The horse racing betting sector still opposed the legalization of online gambling in New Jersey and wielded sufficient influence. There was also the issue of slightly different versions of the bills in the Assembly and Senate, necessitating greater congruity and harmonization.

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