New Jersey Governor Chris Christie blew a wonderful opportunity to kick-start his state’s economy last year when he vetoed a bill that would have allowed on-line gaming in the Garden State. The bill would have put New Jersey in the forefront of tapping a new, and inevitable, source of much-needed revenue.
Now, however, the state’s political leaders will get a chance for a do-over. State Senator Raymond Lesniak, author of the bill that Mr. Christie vetoed, said he will reintroduce the measure this week, with the hope that it will sail through the Legislature and make its way to the governor’s office in a matter of days, before the current Legislature adjourns. This flurry of activity follows a federal Justice Department ruling several weeks ago that removed obstructions from state efforts to legalize on-line gaming sites.
Mr. Christie, who prides himself on acting decisively, should sign the bill immediately, even if it means taking a break from his frequent flying on behalf of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
The Lesniak bill would legalize on-line gaming for state residents over the age of 21. Players would have to be physically in the state to place their bets on-line. This would allay fears in Atlantic City, home to New Jersey’s casino industry, that gamers would be able to access sites from anywhere.
It’s no secret that Atlantic City is struggling. The growth of casinos and racinos in New York and Pennsylvania has cut into day-trip traffic. Revenues have declined by nearly half since 2005, and more than 10,000 people have lost casino-related jobs in that time span.
Senator Lesniak believes that on-line gaming, conducted under the auspices of Atlantic City’s casinos, will revive the city’s fortunes. “We could be the Silicon Valley of Internet gaming,” Mr. Lesniak said of New Jersey, “and it could mean billions of dollars in revenue for Atlantic City, and thousands of jobs.”
The senator said, correctly, that New Jersey must act quickly, or else it will fall behind. If the bill is not passed and signed before the current Legislature expires on Jan. 9, it will have to be reintroduced in the new legislative session. That would push back passage by months. “We’d lost a lot of the momentum we have now to get it done,” Mr. Lesniak said.
When Mr. Christie vetoed the original bill last year, he said he believed that the measure conflicted with federal regulations. But those concerns have been addressed, Mr. Lesniak noted.
New Jersey is in no position to let competing states take the lead on Internet gaming. Legislators need to pass this bill, and Mr. Christie should sign it.