By Nathan Carroll, Rakeback.com Staff Writer
Although there's been a lot of buzz this year over California's attempts to create an intra-state online poker network, recent legislative activity in New Jersey indicates that the Garden State, not the Golden State, may be the first to establish a legal, regulated, localized online poker market. On Monday of this week, a bill aiming to do just that cleared the Senate Budget Committee in the state's capital of Trenton.
Lawmakers and leaders have ample incentive to introduce legal online gaming; of late, the state has been hurting for tax revenue. Atlantic City, with its boardwalk, casinos, and hotels, has traditionally represented one of the biggest segments of New Jersey's local economy. Now, however, even as the global economy at large has continued to distance itself from the disastrous lows of 2008, Atlantic City finds itself in a steep decline. The appeal of an intra-state gambling bill lies in the potential to substantially add to the state's coffers through tax revenues from the proposed online gaming market. As the bill's sponsor, State Senator Ray Lesniak, explains it, "The revenues generated and jobs created are now going offshore to international gaming operators. [The bill] will redirect those revenues to our casinos in Atlantic City."
Even though the plan sounds like an unqualified success for online poker enthusiasts, there's a big caveat: the proposed bill would grant online poker licenses only to already existing brick and mortar casino operations stationed in Atlantic City. The details may play out differently, but the language of the bill as it now stands would effectively ban all of the current online poker sites--including the two giants of the industry, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker--from continuing to operate in the state. Much like recent legislation in Washington led both of the aforementioned sites to block Washington residents from real money play, the proposed New Jersey bill may cause the effective death of the state's online poker ecosystem as we currently know it.
As for what might rise up to take its place, that's anyone's guess. Because online gambling remains unregulated in the U.S., there's no precedent to look to for a single-state market, especially one that throws out all of the already established competitors. The most prominent casino in Atlantic City, the Borgata, would be the obvious front runner in a race to snatch up the online poker revenue dollars that the bill would certainly make available, but there's no guarantee that a well-run brick and mortar casino will be able to successfully transition to the online world. Other noteworthy AC casinos that may throw their hats into the ring are Harrah's, The Tropicana, Bally's, Caesar's, and the Trump Taj Mahal.
This is all merely speculation, however. Approval from the State Senate Budget Committee is no small step, but there are several more that need to be taken before the still-just-theoretical legislation manifests itself in any meaningful way. The full New Jersey Senate will now get its turn to examine the bill, and if they choose to pass the legislation, it will then be turned over to Governor Chris Christie to be signed into law.
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