"The changes Gov. Christie has asked for show his commitment to New Jersey becoming the leader in iGaming," he said. "The protections they put in place are consistent with the governor's long-held desire to make New Jersey the epicenter of a safe and secure online gaming industry. There is still a little work to do, but this is a major victory."
The extra money online gambling would bring is needed as Atlantic City continues to lose market share, revenue and jobs to casinos in neighboring states. Since 2006, New Jersey's casino revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion to just over $3 billion last year.
In his comments to the Legislature, Christie, a former federal prosecutor, gave insight into the issues he'd been wrestling with regarding Internet gambling. He acknowledged that some experts "caution that this type of convenience gaming will lead to declines in tourism, and a loss of visitors to the region."
He said he also considered social impacts and recommended more funding for compulsive gambling treatment programs and "an annual analysis of the potential problems and harms associated with these new games" to be paid for by Internet gambling licensees.
"Our state cannot carelessly create a new generation of addicted gamers, sitting in their homes, using laptops or iPads, gambling away their salaries and their futures," the governor said.
He also recommended a series of ethical and legal protections to make sure Internet gambling is done transparently, including having lawmakers disclose any past or present representation of companies seeking online gambling licenses.
Christie vetoed New Jersey's first attempt at Internet gambling in March 2011, citing concerns about its constitutionality and worrying about the proliferation of illegal back-room Internet betting parlors that would be difficult to find and prosecute. The latest bill tried to address those concerns by providing hefty fines for anyone who runs or even advertises such a back-room betting parlor.
The bill would have legalized the online playing, for money, of any game currently offered at Atlantic City's casinos, including poker. It would have taxed Internet gambling revenues at 10 percent, up from the 8 percent that the casinos pay for money won on their premises.
Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the Council On Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said the state currently has about 350,000 problem gamblers, a number that would surely grow if the ease of online gambling was offered.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC