NJ election year is major hurdle for new iGaming legislation

Bill To Legalize International Player Pools For NJ Online Poker Will Drop Next Week, State Senator Says

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New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak intends to introduce legislation to allow people outside of the state to place bets at NJ online casinos and poker rooms on Aug. 25, the senator told Online Poker Report.

The news represents the first step for the possibility of international and interstate player pooling, a move that could drastically increase the ceiling for NJ online poker sites.

But those efforts likely face an uphill climb this year.

New bill will encounter hurdles in 2017

Lesniak’s effort faces a number of hurdles. The most serious one will be gaining attention and momentum for a bill during an election year for New Jersey. Senators and assemblymembers will be campaigning for their seats, and the state will also choose a governor to succeed Chris Christie.

The bill, while it would help NJ’s gaming industry, is not necessarily a hot button issue. But certainly there are both politicians and gaming industry interests that wouldn’t mind seeing NJ become the “Mecca of Internet gaming,” as Lesniak has put it.

Of course, reelection won’t be an issue for Lesniak as he works to move the bill forward.

Lesniak’s last hurrah for NJ gaming?

Lesniak plans to retire from the Senate at the end of the year. His bid to become governor came up short.

When Lesniak steps out of the political realm, the NJ gambling industry and online gambling in particular will lose one of its biggest champions. After all, he is one of the main reasons why New Jersey has online gambling at all, when the state enacted a law in 2013.

Since then, the online casino industry has been nothing short of a success, generating $600 million in revenue since launch. (The state has made more than $100 million from taxing it in that time.)

If Lesniak can’t muster support for the bill this year, someone else will have to take up his mantle.

Lesniak announced earlier his intent to push forward a bill that would attempt to fully repeal New Jersey’s sports betting ban. It’s not clear if that effort will move forward right now, given that the case is now being taken up by the US Supreme Court, A decision on whether New Jersey will win its case against the federal ban on sports betting is likely to come in 2018.

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While New Jersey is looking into gaming law…

A better bet for changes to online gambling law would be 2018, after election season is over, although the effort isn’t dead on arrival in 2017.

The state could, at some point, to go back into the sports betting law that court challenges have held up so far. Federal law currently prohibits single-game sports gambling outside of Nevada.

The NJ sports betting law that is currently the subject of the case in front of SCOTUS would allow for what amounts to unregulated sports betting.

Either before the Supreme Court ruling — or after a potential victory — the state would almost certainly prepare to rewrite the law to provide for regulation by the NJ Department of Gaming Enforcement. (That’s if SCOTUS declares the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional.)

The law was intended to allow sports betting at the state’s land-based casinos and race tracks. But the possibility of allowing online sports betting can’t be ignored. Debating the merits of international play at NJ online gambling sites while also considering the future of legal sports betting in the state would make a lot of sense.

- 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.
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