A Radical Idea in New Jersey

5 April 2000
Atlantic City has played second fiddle to Las Vegas for years with no signs of catching up, but that could change if a notion by a New Jersey legislator results in regulated Internet casinos based in New Jersey. Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina R-Monmouth revealed Tuesday that he's examining the pros and cons of legislation that would enable Atlantic City Casinos to offer their games over the Internet.

Azzolina told the Asbury Park Press that he'll consider the prospect of regulating online casinos in New Jersey as a way to make gambling on the Internet safer as well as a way for the state to collect a significant amount of tax money. The congressman will investigate Net betting and look toward proposing legislation if its feasible.

Azzolina says that he's concerned with the idea of consumers getting taken for a ride by unregulated gaming operations and that he doesn't see any realistic way to enforce prohibition. "If we allow it in New Jersey, at least we'll be honest," he told the Asbury Park Press.

In light of the decisively prohibitive approach toward legislating Internet gambling in the U.S., the obvious question that immediately comes to mind is: "Does such an idea stand a snowball's chance in hell?"

Former New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director Frank Catania, an advocate of regulation, thinks it does. "It's the right thing to do," Catania said. "New Jersey is a very progressive state. I think the legislators will listen."

Catania acknowledged that a regulatory bill would have its share of detractors, but he emphasized that Azzolina, a senior assemblyman, won't propose a bill that doesn't have a chance of passing.

Azzolina says that, should a regulatory approach be taken, he doesn't want to see gaming revenues sucked out of Atlantic City. The only licenses to be granted, he says, would go to Atlantic City operators. The Internet would thus be another avenue for the land-based facilities to reach their customers--similar to the model established in Australia.

Catania points out, however, that the Atlantic City casinos might not warm up to the idea immediately. "Casino interests still think that Internet gambling is contrary to their position," he said.

Expect Action

Azzolina's proposition for research is intriguing, but don't rush to chalk New Jersey up as the state that will lead the way in the regulation of Internet gambling. First of all, Azzolina says a bill will not materialize before he gets a feel for how the governor and the attorney general view the matter.

Further, J.P. Suarez, the current New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement director, told the Asbury Park Press that New Jersey law enforcement officials plan to crack down on online gambling operations and that the state could start prosecuting operators as early as this summer.

Is It a Trend?

The recent development in New Jersey isn't the beginning of the regulatory approach in that state. A member of Azzolina's staff told IGN that a bill calling for the legalization of account wagering, currently being looked at in both houses (S584/A889), includes language that leaves the door open for Internet betting as well. A similar piece of legislation was introduced last month in Louisiana.

Unlike the account wagering bills, however, the speculated New Jersey bill would contradict the federal government's prohibition measure, which is currently awaiting markup in the House. The federal bill, at least for now, includes an exemption that enables states to legalize online pari-mutuel wagering. The account wagering bills don't contradict the federal bill because they call for the regulation of pari-mutuel wagering only.

The New Jersey bill, should one be introduced, would be a whole other animal. Azzlina indicated that such a bill would enable Atlantic City casinos to offer casino games--a radical departure from the general sentiment that online casinos won't fly in the U.S.

Despite the U.S.'s current push toward prohibition, however, most advocates of regulated Internet gambling, including Catania, believe that the U.S. will eventually progress to adopt regulation. If that's the case, Azzolina could ultimately make New Jersey the first state to get its foot in the door.