New Jersey’s plan to legalize internet wagering, Senate Bill 1565, has great prospects of enactment this session. A similar bill passed both chambers of the legislature last session but failed to become law because Governor Chris Christie refused to sign it. But 2012-2013 is a new legislative session, and there are good reasons to expect the governor could soon be ready to sign.
The political atmosphere has changed dramatically since last session’s bill died on Governor Christie’s desk. The federal Justice Department used to be an obstacle, but in December of 2011 the agency declared it would not interfere if a state wants to allow internet gambling. In response, legislatures across the country are now finally becoming informed about the practical realities of internet gambling policy. And of course there remains strong public support for legalization and the taxable revenues that could be reclaimed from foreign operators.
As evidence suggesting Governor Christie could sign a bill, consider the comments his office seems to have made to a Reuters reporter in January:
“I think we should be an epicenter for that business, but I want to do it right — I do not want to rush and get legislation that either doesn’t pass state constitutional muster, or creates other problems for us.” –Christie spokesperson confirming the governor’s remarks, see Reuters article: Chris Christie: New Jersey Should Be Online Gambling’s ‘epicenter.’
Another article, published on Philly.com today, speculates further about the decision that awaits Governor Christie: Politics May be behind Christie’s change of heart.
There is good reason to expect S1565 can pass the legislature because it is nearly identical to the bill that passed both chambers last year. The one and only difference is potentially significant though. Last session’s bill would have required licensed operators to collectively raise $20 million to be delivered to the New Jersey Racing Commission every year for three years. This session’s S1565 does not contain such a provision.
Like last session, Senator Raymond Lesniak is the lead sponsor of the internet wagering bill. Senator Lesniak has served New Jersey’s legislature since 1978. He is Chair of the Senate Economic Growth Committee, Vice-Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
S1565’s second sponsor, Senator Jim Whelan, is both a former Council Member and a former Mayor of Atlantic City. Senator Whelan has served the legislature since 2006. He chairs the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee. He is also a member of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and a member of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.
S 1565 has already passed two Senate committees. It passed Senator Whelan’s State Government, Wagering, and Tourism Committee by vote of 3-0 (with 2 abstentions) on March 5. Then it passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by vote of 11-0 (with 1 not voting and 1 abstention) on April 3. Now it heads to the floor of the Senate.
The General Assembly’s internet wagering bill is A2578. It is sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli, Vincent Prieto, Ruben Ramos, Jr., and Louis Greenwald. Assemblyman Ramos is chair of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee while Assemblyman Burzichelli is vice-chair of the committee. A hearing of their committee is anticipated soon, potentially this week.
The New Jersey plan would allow only Atlantic City casinos to operate internet wagering.