New Jersey On Its Way Toward Online Poker

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had the hopes of poker players in New Jersey — and in a sense everywhere in the United States — in his hands for weeks before making a decision on an intricate piece of legislation aimed to legalize intrastate Internet gaming.

On Thursday, Christie, a rising star within the Republican Party, decided that he would veto the measure, but do so conditionally. In New Jersey, a conditional veto means that the legislation will be sent back to the lawmakers who passed it in order for changes to be made.

In a 31-page document, Christie outlined the amendments he wants to see before signing. Legislators are scheduled to vote on the changes, and when approved, the plan will go back to the governor for his signature — which would be a near certainty.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, the bill’s sponsor, said Christie’s conditions are “very minor.”

Changes that Christie wants include greater effort to combat problem gambling, a 10-year trial period on Internet gaming (which should almost surely be removed or extended well before the deadline), stronger safeguards against corruption and business misconduct and a 15-percent tax for the new business activity instead of the 10.

“This bill represents an important policy decision for the residents of New Jersey, and a historic opportunity to continue the State’s leadership as a premiere destination for tourism and entertainment,” Christie said in a statement. “Such a significant step must be carefully considered, balancing the benefits of job creation, economic development, and the continued revitalization of Atlantic City against the risks of addiction, corruption and improper influence.”

“My proposal continues the tradition in New Jersey of a fine, careful, and well-regulated implementation of gaming. With these changes, we will increase resources to treat compulsive gambling, provide sensible safeguards to ensure careful oversight and a proper annual review of the implementation of Internet gaming, along with a 10-year sunset for future leaders to carefully reevaluate Internet gaming as a state policy broadly and critical transparency measures to guard against undue and improper influence and self-dealing.”

The measure was introduced in the winter of 2012 and sat idle in the legislature for much of the year, before being quickly passed by both the Assembly and Senate in December. Christie then had more than a month to make the monumental decision, and he used the entire clock.

The state’s top lawmaker has been a proponent of helping Atlantic City put the stops on a downward spiral, but recently expressed concerns over the bill during a radio appearance. Christie straight-up vetoed a similar plan in 2011, much to the dismay of Lesniak.

Atlantic City, which is home to 12 commercial casinos, has been on the steep decline since 2006. Hurricane Sandy also contributed to the worst year in recent memory for town.

Lesniak also wants New Jersey to keep pace with Nevada by becoming a technology hub for online gambling software providers. Ancillary industries could also pop up.

Other states in the region, such as Massachusetts, are close to beefing up their respective casino gambling industries. In order to prevent Atlantic City from tumbling further, lawmakers took a long hard look at online gaming

New Jersey will join Nevada and Delaware as the only states with legal real-money betting on the Internet. A handful of other states could legalize in 2013, making this year the time when the focus truly shifts from a federal option to a state-by-state patchwork.

In December 2011, the federal government did clarify a decades-old statute and in effect said that online gaming is OK as long as it’s not sports betting.

Nevada has already looked at the possibility of interstate compacts to create liquidity for online poker, and New Jersey could very likely end up doing the same.

“The sky is the limit,” Lesniak said of the Garden State’s future in online gaming.

The news is also great for PokerStars, which is looking to acquire a casino in Atlantic City. The purchase would give it a foot in the door to eventually operate web poker from New Jersey.

The company, which fell into hot water with the federal government after Black Friday in April 2011, settled with the Department of Justice in July 2012. The deal saw PokerStars admit to no wrongdoing and gave it the opportunity to re-enter the U.S. if ever licensed by a state. Full Tilt Poker is also under the same ownership.

Eric Hollreiser, head of corporate communications for PokerStars, said in a statement that the company “welcomes the definitive statements made by Governor Christie in seeking to place New Jersey at the forefront of Internet gaming in the United States.”

He added that PokerStars has “consistently said that this bill will drive economic development and job creation” and that the firm is “committed to play [a] part in that process.”

Hollreiser said that the deal to acquire The Atlantic Club Casino is moving along, but the “most important thing” is for the bill to be brought “back for signature quickly.”

For news, updates and daily tournament information, check out the New Jersey landing page.

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