By Shari Geller
Fewer than two weeks after the Department of Justice issued its opinion letter establishing that the Wire Act did not make all online gambling illegal, New Jersey is again moving toward legalizing online poker in the state. Last year, the New Jersey legislature passed legislation intended to make it the first state to legalize and regulate intrastate poker, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill citing a number of “significant concerns” with the legislation, including the constitutionality of the proposed law.
But with the change in position by the federal government on the applicability of the Wire Act to online gambling, a newer version of the legislation no longer has the objection of the governor. The U.S. Justice Department in a letter released December 23rd contended that intrastate Internet gambling does not violate federal law, opening the door for states like New Jersey to approve online betting within their borders.
The New Jersey bill (S3019) was scheduled to be heard in Assembly and Senate committees tomorrow and voted on in full sessions of both houses Monday. The bill would have allowed players to create online accounts with the casinos; the players would have to be physically present in New Jersey when placing online bets, but did not have to be residents of the state.
On Wednesday, Governor Christie announced that he would support the new bill. "I think New Jersey should be in that business, I think we should be an epicenter for that business, but I want to do it right," Christie said while taking questions from reporters in New Brunswick. One provision in the bill that Christie had wanted was language that provided that all web-gaming business operations would be restricted to Atlantic City.
But while the governor may have withdrawn his objection in theory to intrastate poker legislation, at the press conference on Wednesday, Christie added the caveat "I do not want to rush legislation that either does not pass state constitutional muster or creates other problems for us."
A hearing on the Internet gaming bill was originally scheduled for Thursday morning, but was removed from the agenda to give legislators time to determine whether the state Constitution requires the question to be put to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, who is sponsoring the measure in the Assembly, said a constitutional amendment may be the only way to make Internet gambling legal in New Jersey. By contrast, Senate co-sponsor Raymond Lesniak said he believes Internet gambling can be achieved legislatively and that a voter-approved constitutional amendment is not required.
Regardless, the bill in its current form will not come up for a vote before the end of the current session on Friday and will need to be reintroduced when a new session starts next week. But Sen. Lesniak is not concerned about the effect this delay will have on the legislation.
"I recognize that the complex issues surrounding Internet wagering will take more time to iron out than we are afforded in the waning days of the current Legislative session," Lesniak said Wednesday. "This isn't a question of 'if' New Jersey gets Internet wagering, but 'when.' My money's on soon."