Trenton demands online gambling referendum
Thursday, New Jersey state legislators called for a gambling summit that would bring together lawmakers, policy experts and industry leaders. According to the Associated Press, the proposed summit would focus on a host of gambling-related issues.
The news comes after state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Sens. Raymond Lesniak, Jim Whelan and Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman John Burzichelli called for a November referendum to legalize online gambling.
The Democratic lawmakers want to legalize online gambling in New Jersey to offset a loss of tax revenue from the state’s distressed casinos and racetracks. They are counting on a repeal of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, a federal law that bans online gambling.
Though still operating in the U.S.’s second-largest gambling market, New Jersey’s gambling operators have suffered a 3 ½-year decline. Experts blame the slump on the recession and the nine slot machine parlors that recently opened in nearby Pennsylvania.
Atlantic City’s 11 casinos have been the hardest hit. Between 2006 and 2009, the Associated Press reported, the casinos experienced a 25 percent drop in their combined revenue. As one example of the slump’s effects on Atlantic City, Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy last year.
Also at issue for the legislators is a law that prohibits New Jersey racetracks from installing slot machines. Under the law, Atlantic City casinos subsidize the tracks in return for the non-compete.
According to the tracks, Pennsylvania’s slots and table games have made the non-compete unsustainable. The tracks are calling on Trenton to repeal the law, saying they must attract other kinds of gamblers in order to survive.
Lesniak, who represents a district near the Meadowlands racetrack, said, “There are billions of dollars of gambling money that we're leaving on the table…. There's enough new revenue to go around for all the state's entertainment facilities instead of everyone fighting each other.
“Atlantic City is dying…. The Meadowlands is dying. Our racetracks are dying. We have time to get this right and craft a constitutional amendment that will maximize revenues for the state and for our tourist destinations.”
As a third possible issue for discussion at the summit, state lawmakers want to repeal New Jersey’s ban on sports betting. In 1991 New Jersey missed its opportunity to legalize sports betting before a federal law restricted the practice to states where it was already legal. Currently sports betting is legal in only four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie has ordered a committee to study New Jersey’s gambling industry before making a decision on the casino-racetrack issue. The committee is scheduled to submit its report in two weeks.