State Sen. Jennifer Beck introduced S 2946 on Jan. 30.
The measure is a carbon copy of a bill, A 4255, introduced in the Assembly in December. But just like the Assembly bill, there is more to S 2946 than first meets the eye.
Efforts to expand casino gambling in New Jersey beyond the borders of Atlantic City suffered a crushing defeat at the polls in November.
But proponents of expanded casino gambling went right back to work and came up with a workaround of sorts that would allow the state’s racetracks to bring gaming into their facilities.
Those workarounds are the two bills mentioned above.
A 4255 and S 2946 would bypass a voter referendum for expanded gambling “by allowing horse racetracks to be available for placing wagers at casinos in Atlantic City using the Internet.”
Per the bill:
“This bill would permit a running or harness horse racetrack in this State to enter into an agreement with a casino located in Atlantic City, or such a casino’s Internet gaming affiliate, that allows the racetrack’s premises to be available as a venue at which the holder of an Internet gaming account may place wagers at casinos using the Internet.”
The language of these bills amounts to some legislative sleight of hand. It’s less about online gambling in the traditional sense, and more about green lighting racetracks to set up something akin to internet cafés.
An internet café sounds harmless enough, and in most cases they are. But in some places they’re little more than a place where people can sit down and gamble on computers, with games piped in directly to the terminals.
The bills being considered would allow racetracks to set up banks of computer terminals for the sole purpose of offering online slot games.
The typical café would charge a fee to use the computer, but if the New Jersey bills were to become law it would be a less nefarious setup than the current internet cafés that have popped up in the United States.
Since both ends of the business would be legal and licensed (the racetrack and the online gaming provider), the racetrack would simply enter into a partnership and split revenue from the play of their customers.
This idea to take this approach first surfaced in the New Jersey Assembly when Assemblyman Ralph Caputo put forth the proposal in December, and it took a hearing on the subject for other lawmakers to realize what was going on.
Following the hearing, where the bill was approved by a 4-3 vote, Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo seemed unimpressed by the attempted ruse.
“This intent was not what we thought when we came here,” Mazzeo told Politico in December. “And now that you read into the bill and heard the testimony, there’s something up here. Something doesn’t smell right.”
When pressed, Caputo had no reservations in admitting the bill’s actual intent. He told Politico at the time, “Well, you know what? This is how the world turns. I guess we’re going to have gaming at the tracks.”
The problem is, with New Jersey voters rejecting casino expansion by a 3-to-1 margin in November, finding support in the legislature beyond representatives whose home districts would benefit in some way is going to bed a heavy lift.