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Christie approves online gaming, with conditions

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The Atlantic City Boardwalk. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)
The Atlantic City Boardwalk. (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

New Jersey has become the third state to allow Internet gaming.

Gov. Chris Christie has conditionally veto a bill to legalize online gambling, but Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said the Legislature will move swiftly to concur with Christie's recommended changes and pass the amended bill by March 18.

Lesniak said the enactment of Internet gaming will be a watershed moment for Atlantic City.

"It's huge," Lesniak said.

Raymond Lesniak

Lesniak said Christie will ask the Legislature to increase the tax on online gaming revenue from 10 percent to 15 percent, and also include a 10-year sunset provision, giving the Legislature the opportunity to reassess the program in a decade. Lesniak said he expects the Legislature to agree to both clauses.

Christie called Internet gaming "a historic opportunity" for the state, but he said the state must move forward with care.

"Such a significant step must be carefully considered, balancing the benefits of job creation, economic development, and the continued revitalization of Atlantic City against the risks of addiction, corruption and improper influence," Christie said in prepared remarks.

The governor's proposed changes also include safeguards to limit ties between lawmakers and Internet gaming licensees, and an increase in funding for compulsive gambling programs.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-West Deptford) said Christie's conditions "appear acceptable," though he said he wants to study them more.

"I'm going to analyze the conditional veto further, but as of now, I expect to move forward with it and get this done as quickly as possible for the benefit of our casino industry, its employees and our economy," Burzichelli said, in a press release.

The law would limit online gaming to Atlantic City casinos, and is expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. It also will help pave the way for The Rational Group, owner of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, to take over the Atlantic Club.

Lesniak said the higher proposed tax rate doesn't pose a major hurdle.

"It may have a competitive drawback when we market other states to tie into our systems, but we'll have to evaluate that at the time and if it does we could always change it," he said.

As for the sunset clause, Lesniak said he thinks it provides a long enough time horizon to spur investment.

"If it were five years, I think it would have been a concern," he said. "Ten years will make investment very attractive."

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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