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Conference to consider online gaming as deadline nears for action on bill

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With the approach of a closely watched deadline for legalizing Internet gaming in New Jersey, a conference next week will tackle key questions such as how federal policy could affect the law and how the state may already be preparing to take bets online.

The two-day event in Atlantic City will start Monday, three days before a deadline for Gov. Chris Christie to sign a law that would authorize online gaming in the state. But as recently as Thursday, Christie has refused to say whether he would sign the bill, though the future of at least one casino could depend on the decision.

Conference co-chair Frank DiGiacomo, a Duane Morris gaming attorney in Cherry Hill, said federal policy looms large if Christie signs the bill. A December 2011 opinion issued by the Justice Department said the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 — a law aimed at fighting organized crime —applies only to cross-state bookmaking operations, clearing the way for efforts like those in New Jersey and other states.

“What that did was (to) open up the opportunity for states to legalize some form of Internet gambling intrastate,” said DiGiacomo, a partner with the firm. “As long as didn’t cross state lines, it could be legal.”

Such is the focus of next week’s conference, a legal industry event titled Intrastate Internet Gambling in the Mid-Atlantic. But speakers also are slated to discuss what could happen if federal law changes to allow states to accept bets from outside their borders, he said.

The law now sitting on Christie’s desk leaves New Jersey prepared in that sense, DiGiacomo said, as it would allow online gaming operators to take bets from other countries if Congress changes the law.

If Christie signs the bill, DiGiacomo said the state is well-positioned to implement it. He pointed to the Division of Gaming Enforcement’s recent adoption of regulations for mobile gaming at Atlantic City casinos — allowing patrons to play from wireless devices — which “can easily be tweaked to allow full-blown Internet (gaming).”

“It sets forth the kind of controls that a casino would have to have in place, in terms of player registration, establishing an account, verifying age — all of those things,” he said. He added that “positioning — where you’re placing the bet from — is another important thing, because you can’t establish an account and then go to Pennsylvania and place bets.”

Next week’s conference at Resorts Casino Hotel will also cover issues such as how online casino operators can partner with social gaming companies like Zynga, which DiGiacomo said is provided for in the New Jersey bill.

The measure has been on Christie’s desk since the Legislature approved it Dec. 20, coming after the governor vetoed an earlier version of the bill in 2011. Christie has been tight-lipped about his position, and recently expressed doubts about whether the law would help Atlantic City and create a new generation of gamblers.

The fate of law could also impact the Atlantic Club, which is slated to be sold to the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, two major online gaming websites. The sale is pending a review by state regulators.

A recent analysis from Wells Fargo said online gaming “is one of the last chances the governor has to provide a lifeline to Atlantic City casinos, as we believe the size of the online market could be almost half of the existing New Jersey gaming market’s revenue.”

A spokeswoman for Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said he was unavailable to be interviewed today.

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