New Jersey voters resoundingly rejected a referendum that would have allowed casinos to be built outside of Atlantic City last November. The defeat sent supporters of expanded gambling, particularly at racetracks, back to the drawing board.
The result was a bill that would allow NJ racetracks to house internet cafes.
The measure passed a vote in the state Assembly on Thursday, 60-12.
The proposed legislation would authorize “online” gambling at New Jersey racetracks, provided they partner with an Atlantic City casino or an online gambling platform affiliated with an Atlantic City casino.
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 Senate version is still in that chamber’s committee, and what action it might take is unclear.
Considering online gambling is legal throughout the state of New Jersey, the bill seems wholly unnecessary. However, the bill isn’t really about online gambling. It’s about authorizing the state’s racetracks to operate internet cafes.
Having been denied real slot machines and table games, racetracks like Monmouth Park are looking at the next best thing. That would be computer terminals that specifically offer online gambling, otherwise known as internet cafes.
Internet cafes are illegal in New Jersey. But because both ends — the café operator and the supplier — would be licensed by the state via the bill, the cafes at racetracks would be legal.
By calling it online gambling and running it as an internet café, racetracks would also bypass the voter referendum that is required to expand gambling in New Jersey.
Supporters of the bill see it as a win-win for tracks and casinos.
“The casinos should realize that absolutely nothing will happen unless they agree to allow it through an agreement with a track,” Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of the Monmouth Park racetrack told ESPN. “Nobody is forcing anything on them. This is really a win-win for the racing industry and the casino industry.”
But some lawmakers are skeptical, and see the measure as going against the vast majority of New Jersey voters’ wishes.
After a hearing on the Assembly bill last December, Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo told Politico:
“This intent was not what we thought when we came here. And now that you read into the bill and heard the testimony, there’s something up here. Something doesn’t smell right.”