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Assembly delays Super Bowl gambling bill

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A bill that would temporarily allow gambling at the Meadowlands in the days leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl was pulled from the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee's agenda today, as lawmakers continue to work through technical issues surrounding the arrangement.

"What we're going to do is try and button up a couple of logistical issues that came up as we were having this discussion with all of the stakeholders behind the scenes before we bring it out into the public," said Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. (D-Hoboken), a sponsor of the bill and the committee's chairman.

The bill would allow Atlantic City casino operators to set up shop at the Meadowlands complex for six days leading up to the Super Bowl. Ramos said the idea is to ensure Super Bowl tourists spend time and money in the Garden State.

"A lot of economic activity is going to take place during that time, and we want New Jersey to benefit from it as much as possible," he said.

Ramos' bill is specifically tied to the Super Bowl, but the committee also postponed action on a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the state's gaming regulations to give the Legislature the ability to allow temporary gaming at the Meadowlands Complex.

With the gaming issues off the table, the committee gave its seal of approval to three other bills. One, sponsored by Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (R-Cream Hills), would allow New Jersey residents to place bets on horseraces using the state's closed wagering system even when they're out of state. Currently, only New Jersey residents can use the system, and only when they're in-state. But Dancer said it's so easy now to wager via smartphone that many residents might unwittingly be breaking the law.

"The practice is widespread now, with today's technology," he said.

The move was opposed by Barbara DeMarco, a vice president at Porzio Governmental Affairs, who spoke on behalf of Greenwood Racing. Greenwood is the owner of the Atlantic City Race Course and half-owner of the Freehold Raceway. The company also helps operate the state's closed account wagering system.

DeMarco said most states allow private operators to set up account wagering systems in their state, while New Jersey has a state-run monopoly.

For instance, Churchill Downs, which operates the Kentucky Derby, also has its own account wagering system, Twin Spires, which operates in multiple states. Under current law, a New Jersey resident visiting those states would have to open a Twin Spires account. If New Jersey changes its law, DeMarco said companies like Churchill Downs would lose customers, and could potentially retaliate by hiking the "host fees" they charge New Jersey racetracks to show premium races, like the Kentucky Derby.

"So we're concerned that companies like that, that have control over content, may come in and say, 'You're changing the rules to benefit you, well, we're going to change the rules to benefit us,' " she said.

The committee approved the bill unanimously despite the concerns. Dancer said they can deal with such problems when, and if, they arise.

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