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Internet Gaming in New Jersey: First the Garden State, Then the World

Online gambling in NJ is just one day into its 'soft play' trial, but 'optimistic' Senator Lesniak says state can be home to international Internet gaming

online gaming

Before New Jersey even tested its first online games, a state senator unveiled his proposal to expand the state’s Internet gambling reach across the world.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) yesterday announced he is introducing a bill that would make New Jersey the first state to license casinos to conduct online wagering restricted to people who live outside the United States in an effort to “make New Jersey the leader in online gambling.” (Read a draft version of the bill.)

Lesniak said the bill would bring revenue and jobs to New Jersey and further boost Atlantic City, which has been suffering with the growth of gambling in nearby states.

“I was approached by some international gaming companies who would like to set up shop in New Jersey because of the long history of stable gambling here . . . because of the talent pool here,” said Lesniak, who announced his proposal during a press conference in Atlantic City and later on a telephone conference that included a number of writers with gambling news publications.

Lesniak spoke just hours before seven Atlantic City casinos began a trial run of Internet gaming at 6 p.m. Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill Lesniak had co-sponsored to allow New Jerseyans to play casino games over the Internet just nine months ago. The move could generate as much as $1.5 billion in new revenue for the state. Lesniak said yesterday the bill has been “a lifeline for Atlantic City’s casinos,” preventing the closing of two casinos and keeping between 5,000 and 10,000 people employed.

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement listed 17 websites authorized for the “soft play” five-day trial. Each is able to offer limited play to 500 players at a time and DGE is monitoring the play, according to spokeswoman Lisa Spengler.

Following the trial period, DGE Director David Rebuck will issue an order opening full play to the general public on Tuesday to those licensees whose testing was successful. That will make New Jersey the third state, after Nevada and Delaware, to offer Internet gaming.

"The soft opening will be used to demonstrate to the division that all systems perform as required under the stress of live gaming and that operational and revenue reporting controls are effective,” Rebuck said. “Staff will continually assess the progress of each platform provider before allowing them to open gaming to the general public on November 26."

Spengler said the division has created a team of 25, at least some of whom have online or internet gaming experience, to oversee Internet gambling and is “committed to ensuring compliance with state and federal legal and regulatory requirements.”

One of those requirements is that all the sites include somewhere the state’s gambling helpline -- 1-800-GAMBLER -- or a link to the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey website, www.800gambler.org.

Donald Weinbaum, the council’s executive director, said he is expecting that online wagering will have a “significant impact” in every county in the state as Internet gambling is marketed and more people try it.

“For persons who may already be trying to deal with gambling problem, or who are in recovery from a gambling addiction, the risk and temptation are even greater,” Weinbaum said. “The fact that people will be able to play at any time, any place, even in the middle of the night, is definitely cause for concern. Research has long suggested that easy access is associated with increased rates of problem gambling. And, in New Jersey, on-line gambling is not limited to just poker, so we believe that these emerging problems could potentially cut across all demographic groups.”

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