Gambling and the Law: Christie shocked, shocked at Internet gambling bill

14 September 2011
Governor Chris Christie wants to be President of the United States.

You can tell, because he is constantly traveling all over the U.S., holding press conferences to say that he does not want to run.

That’s how it is done in the U.S.

But Christie’s problem is that he is a Republican, which today means the only way he can be nominated is to win over the extreme conservatives of the "Tea Party."

Conservatives say their first priority is small government.

But Christie is smart enough to know that voters who will pick the next GOP presidential nominee have higher priorities. While there are some fiscal conservatives, most Republicans are still social conservatives. The right is still the religious right, even if that means big government, such as intruding on decisions about abortion, gay marriage, etc.

At least one-third of social conservatives oppose all gambling, although they accept it if it has been approved by local voters.

And Christie is from a "blue" state, and will already be pictured by his Republican opponents as the governor of Atlantic City.

So, when faced with a bill to allow casinos to have intra-state Internet gambling, does he sign it into law, and help balance his state’s budget, or veto it, to prevent being known as the Internet gambling governor?

I thought he would let online gaming become law without his signature, and then blame it on the Democratically controlled State Legislature.

But, after thinking about it for two months, he was shocked to find the bill violated the State Constitution.

The reasons Governor Chris Christie gave for vetoing the intrastate Internet gaming bill were not completely frivolous, although they weren't his real motivations.

He said that the bill violated the State Constitution, because it would permit casino gambling to take place outside of Atlantic City. There is a legal basis for this. When the voters approved amending the Constitution to bring in casinos, they expressly limited them to Atlantic City.

But what about the Legislature’s prior approval of betting on horse races from homes and offices? State Senator Ray Lesniak's Internet gaming bill had simply adopted the same language used with Advance Deposit Wagering on races: Once a patron sets up an account, all wagers are deemed to take place at the racetrack, or, in this case, at the casino.

But, the Constitution does not expressly limit betting on races to tracks, the way it restricts casino gambling to Atlantic City. In fact, it gives the Legislature the right to do just about anything it wants with wagering on live or simulcast horse races.

Christie was also not completely off-base in saying that there was nothing in the proposed bill that "would prohibit commercial establishments outside of Atlantic City, such as nightclubs, cafés and bars from offering Internet gambling." True, but all Internet gaming had to be tied to an existing Atlantic City casino. And what casino would have allowed a competitor to be set up within the physically small geographic area of New Jersey?

No, the real reason Christie vetoed the bill, and the reason it took him so long to discover these legal problems, is that he was weighing what to do politically. He wants to run for President, although he is probably smart enough not to try and take on Obama in 2012, especially with such a short track record as Governor.

But, by saying the bill violated the Constitution, Christie forces proponents to put the issue on the ballot next November.

After it passes, the state will get all the money that Internet gambling will bring in, and Christie won’t have to pay a political price. Even though he is governor, New Jersey becoming the first state to introduce casino gambling into the home will not have been his fault.

He can blame the voters.

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I. Nelson Rose

Articles by Professor I. Nelson Rose is an internationally known scholar, public speaker and writer and is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on gambling law. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a tenured full Professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where he teaches one of the first law school classes on gaming law. Professor Rose is the author of more than 300 books, articles, book chapters columns. He is best known for his internationally syndicated column, "Gambling and the Law ®," and his landmark 1986 book by the same name. His most recent book is a collection of columns and analysis, co-authored with Bob Loeb, on Blackjack and the Law. A consultant to governments and industry, Professor Rose has testified as an expert witness in administrative, civil and criminal cases in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and has acted as a consultant to major law firms, international corporations, licensed casinos, players, Indian tribes, and local, state and national governments, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and the federal governments of Canada and the United States. With the rising interest in gambling throughout the world, Professor Rose has spoken before such diverse groups as the F.B.I., National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress of State Lotteries of Europe, United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has presented scholarly papers on gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, England, Australia, Antigua, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and the Czech Republic. He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

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