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N.J. may chase worldwide internet gambling audience

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In an announcement this morning in Atlantic City, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) unveiled his plans to sponsor a bill that would open up New Jersey's nascent internet gaming program to customers around the world.

The bill, Lesniak said, would authorize the state Division of Gaming Enforcement to grant licenses to companies offering online wagering and casino games to customers in foreign countries.

The announcement comes as New Jersey is set to begin a five-day trial period today for its internet gaming program, which is currently restricted to in-state wagering.

"This could make New Jersey the leader in online gaming," Lesniak said. "We are well-positioned to take advantage of a dynamic opportunity to be at the hub of a new business sector with the potential for economic growth and job creation."

Under the bill, the program would be restricted to foreign countries, which would have to enter regulatory agreements with the state. The DGE would enforce the regulations to ensure that standards are met.

Internet gaming is a "worldwide industry," Lesniak said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be a part of it."

Lesniak said that while the bill certainly has implications for Atlantic City and its viability, its reach is not limited to the troubled shore resort. On Wednesday, Moody's Investors Service downgraded the city's credit rating due to declining gaming revenue and ongoing tax appeals.

"This is going to create jobs across the state," Lesniak said.

On hand to support Lesniak's claims was Adam Ozimek, a senior economist and director of research at Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions.

Ozimek said Lesniak's plan has the potential to add anywhere from 4,700 to 7,900 new jobs and generate $2.2 billion to $3.8 billion in new revenue.

"It seems to me like this is a no-brainer," Lesniak said.

Lesniak said he didn't know if Gov. Chris Christie would support the initiative. He added that while the Department of Justice should have no problem with it, he imagines the World Trade Organization might.

Add to that list industry billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has publicly come out against online gaming. Lesniak said Adelson's criticism of the venture is of little concern to him.

Lesniak drew a comparison between the expansion of online wagering overseas to the growing presence of the National Football League in London, where it hosts several games each year. He said if the league can do it, so can New Jersey.



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