Atlantic City internet wagering bill clears committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Gaming Committee released by a 3-1 vote, with one abstention, a bill that would enable residents

TRENTON – The Assembly Gaming Committee released by a 3-1 vote, with one abstention, a bill that would enable residents to place wagers on Atlantic City casino games through the Internet.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), of Elizabeth, described the bill, A2578, as “a lifeline” that will create another revenue source and help the resort city from struggling further. He said that some $200 million in revenues were lost over the past year.

“Our casinos are hurting,” he said. “I’m very, very afraid some (casinos) will close and (workers) will lose their jobs.”

Two Assembly members expressed concern about the bill.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, (D-28), Belleville, who voted no, said the Office of Legislative Services expressed in a written opinion that a constitutional amendment would be required, since casino gaming could only take place at Atlantic City. He called for a referendum on Internet casino games to be placed on the ballot.

“This is a question that should go to the voters,” he said. “For us to sit here and read the minds of New Jersey…we’re attacking this on a piecemeal basis.”

He feared the expansion of Internet casino games would make underage gambling more widespread.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer, (R-14), of Plumsted, echoed Caputo’s statements about the OLS opinion.

“At this time it would be difficult to wholeheartedly support his bill,” he said.

He ultimately abstained from voting on the bill.

But Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), of Paulsboro, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said it will provide a much-need revenue stream to support Atlantic City’s redevelopment projects.

Bill Pascrell III of Princeton Public Affairs Group described the bill as “a jobs bill,” helping programs for senior citizens and developmentally disabled residents.

He added that the computer servers that would enable internet wagers to be set are in Atlantic City.

“This bill could pass constitutional muster.”

He added that the bill would help make Atlantic City the “Silicon Valley of the world in online gaming.”

The Casino Association of New Jersey supports the bill, saying it will make Atlantic City “a more competitive destination.”

Meadowlands Racetrack and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey opposed the bill because it could siphon away customers from the racetracks, and they also expressed concern about the constitutional amendment. They added the bill could have a dire impact on the industry’s 12,000 jobs.

Officials from the Casino Revenue Fund supported the bill.

The fund had $500 million in casino revenue in 2005. Last year, it was less than half of that.

Officials said that because of the shortfall in funds, community transportation in counties and Meals on Wheels programs are struggling.

“We’re in a crisis situation,” a fund official said.

Another official with the fund said, “Our people are dying of starvation.”

The Assembly members who voted yes included Burzichelli, Assemblyman John Amodeo, (D-2), of Margate, and Ruben Ramos, (D-33), of Hoboken.

Atlantic City internet wagering bill clears committee