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Proponents of online gaming are eager to double down

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At the time, most economists and industry analysts didn't believe Gov. Chris Christie when he announced that in its first year of implementation, Internet gaming would net New Jersey upwards of $1 billion in revenue.

Now, with numbers for the first full month of Internet gaming already out and the following month's report due shortly, it again appears as if Christie is way off.

With $8.4 million in revenue done between late November, when online wagering launched in the state, and the end of December, it's going to take quite a lot for the industry to get back on Christie's track.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), both a supporter of online gaming and an outspoken critic of Christie, dismissed the governor's projections as "phony, cooked numbers" that were only put forth to help balance the budget.

That said, Lesniak knows the early numbers aren't quite where they should be.

"Even with that understanding, it has gotten off to a slow start," he said.

But for Lesniak and others betting big on Internet gaming, the beauty of a market not yet reaching its potential is that, inherently, there's still plenty of room to grow.

And two bills that will receive consideration in the Legislature aim to do just that.

Lesniak is sponsoring one of them, which will allow for licensed casinos in the state and their online gaming affiliates to offer Internet games to players in any state or country that permits it.

Currently, only those located within New Jersey's borders can partake in the state's online gaming offerings.

The second bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield), would allow casinos and their online gaming partners to house needed equipment for their operation at a secure Atlantic City location rather than on casino premises, as currently mandated.

The idea is to allow for these companies to establish their online gaming infrastructure in the city so that if and when other states legalize Internet wagering themselves, the operations would potentially be carried out through New Jersey. In addition, the investment in online gaming infrastructure brings with it the potential for job creation.

When Whelan's bill cleared a Senate panel last month, he characterized it at the time as "literally giving the industry room to grow."

David Rebuck, director for the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said he can see the potential economic benefits from both bills and will look to work with the state and Legislature to ensure they are deemed constitutional and "fully defensible."

David rebuck is the director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming enforcement.
David rebuck is the director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming enforcement. - ()

That said, Rebuck isn't closing the door on anything when it comes to online gaming. It's too new of an industry to not at least consider everything, he said.

"It's a new business opportunity," Rebuck said of Internet gaming. "We want to see it succeed. We are open-minded to any suggestion."

In the short term, Rebuck said he's focused on getting more operators to offer online gaming on mobile devices and continuing to address some of the payment processing issues that have come up. Still, some major credit card companies have been unwilling to get on board.

"We are learning every day," Rebuck said.

And the pressure is on, says William Pascrell III, a lobbyist for the Princeton Public Affairs Group representing Isle of Man-based PokerStars.

Having recently returned from ICE Totally Gaming, an annual industry conference in London, Pascrell said those who are on the outside looking in are "watching Jersey very carefully to see if the market is really there.

"I think there's a huge gap between the European experience for the last 10 years and the American lack of experience in the space," Pascrell said.

E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrgeorg


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