State Senator Could Create More Favorable Environment

Lesniak As New Jersey Governor Could Be Good For Future Of U.S. Online Gambling

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New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak recently announced his intention to run for governor in 2017, which would be a positive development for proponents of regulated and legalized online gambling in the United States.

Lesniak’s gubernatorial designs

Lesniak is a longtime champion of regulated iGaming and was the driving force behind behind legislation that allowed online poker and gambling in 2012.

NJ.com had details of his plans:

Lesniak (D-Union) said he plans to focus “on the issues I championed in my legislative career,” and will not seek reelection to the state Senate. He’s served in the Legislature for 37 years.

“I’m not running for reelection. I plan on running for governor,” Lesniak said.

“It has been a long time in the making, about a year,” he said. “I just saw that the problems of this state are not being addressed and I believe that I’m best person who can get in there and say what needs to get done and get it done.”

However, that’s apparently not an “official” announcement, as he told Politico.

Why Lesniak is good for online gambling, moving forward

Although New Jersey already has regulated iGaming, there are certainly things that could happen moving forward with Lesniak in the governor’s mansion. For example:

  • In the past, Lesniak introduced a bill that would allow New Jersey to offer international iGaming licenses, although that bill never gained any tractiion. (Americans would not have been able to play against international players, under the proposal.)

In combining all of the above, Lesniak also recently told PokerNews.com that he would be “aggressive in courting other states to join New Jersey in creating online poker liquidity, and to permit people from other countries in which online gambling is legal to play on the Atlantic City sites.”

“I would be a champion for expanding New Jersey online gambling internationally and would fight any further efforts to curtail it,” Lesniak said. “Being governor would certainly improve the weight of my positions on Internet gambling and sports betting. The reason I am seriously considering running for governor is that this state needs more effective leadership in all areas. Bringing in additional revenues is a big part of that, and I’ve made clear my belief that there’s money going outside the state for illegal offshore gambling that I want to bring back in the state.”

The way to iGaming change is via states, not Congress

There have been proponents of legalized and regulated online gambling and poker at the federal level over the years — Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have been the most prominent.

But at this point, it seems unlikely that there is going to be an overarching federal bill passed to allow iGaming to take place across the country — at least in the near future. (At the same time, there also seems to be very little momentum behind banning online gambling — through the Restoration of America’s Wire Act — either.)

Having Lesniak in the governorship would create the most powerful ally that iGaming proponents have in government at any level. Having congressmen and senators in Washington who champion the iGaming cause is obviously ideal, but even a group of them would have a hard time effecting change, in the current environment.

The path for iGaming and online poker appears to run through the states, and having Lesniak help to lead the charge could speed things up, and could mean more states jumping on the bandwagon.

Can Lesniak actually win?

While the idea of Lesniak going to Trenton sounds good on paper, could it happen in reality?

The run of current Gov. Chris Christie will be over, and he is running for the Republican nomination for president. What we know about New Jersey’s sentiments more than two years out is limited:

  • Democrats control both houses of the legislature, but obviously the state elected a Republican governor last time around.
  • Almost no candidate has actually declared their intentions, according to a story at Philly.com. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno would be a natural frontrunner at the start on the Republican side.
  • There was no favorite yet, back in September of 2014, according to a poll.

Lesniak has been popular, at least in his jurisdiction, where he ran unopposed in 2013.

Can Lesniak ascend to the governorship, and create an even more friendly environment for iGaming? There’s a chance, certainly, but we’ll likely have to wait at least until the Democratic primaries in 2017 to find out.

Photo by Rutgers Magazine used under license CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.