TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure today allowing internet gambling in Atlantic City, a move his administration expects to nearly double casino revenue and provide a lifeline to the struggling seaside resort.
“This was a critical decision, and one that I did not make lightly,” Christie said in a statement. “But with the proper regulatory framework and safeguards that I insisted on including in the bill, I am confident that we are offering a responsible yet exciting option that will make Atlantic City more competitive while also bringing financial benefits to New Jersey as a whole.”
The state Treasury said today it expected the new law — combined with the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and additional advertising — to sharply increase casino revenue from $235 million in the current fiscal year to nearly $436 million in fiscal 2014.
Last month, securities analysts with Wells Fargo were even more optimistic, saying that online wagering could generate from $650 million to $850 million in the “near term.”
The legislation received bipartisan approval in the Legislature today. The Assembly passed the measure (A2578) by a vote of 68-5, with one abstention, and the Senate signed off on the bill (S1565) by a 35-1 vote.
The law will allow any game played in the city’s 12 casinos to be played on the internet — exclusively inNew Jerseyat first but later in other places willing to partner with the state.
Licenses will be limited to theAtlantic Citycasinos and require the companies to keep most of the equipment to run the operations on site.
Sponsors hailed the measure as one of the last chances to the revive the state’s gaming industry, which has been battered by the proliferation of casinos in neighboring states.
“This is a historic moment forAtlantic Cityand for the state ofNew Jersey,” state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a primary sponsor of the bill, said before the Senate vote. “Because of internet gaming, at least one and likely two casinos will not have to close.”
For now it is unclear when gamblers will be able to sign up for internet wagering, or precisely how they will do so. The state will need to create rules, review applications and issue licenses. But to achieve the governor’s projected casino revenue, which Lesniak called “aggressive,” he said the program would need to be in place by this fall.
, saying he wanted to be sure the economic benefits were carefully weighed “against the risks of addiction, corruption, and improper influence.”
He recommended extending prohibitions on casino-related jobs for state workers and others with conflicts of interest, increasing funds for programs that treat compulsive gambling, and requiring elected state officials to disclose current and former connections to companies seeking online gaming licenses.
The governor also called for more taxes than legislators had proposed — 15 percent of all internet gambling revenue rather than the 10 percent in the original bill. Casinos currently pay an 8 percent gross tax on casino revenue, which would not apply to internet wagering under the legislation.
His biggest change: The law would expire after a decade, giving lawmakers a chance to review the measure on its merits.
The Legislature concurred with all those changes today.
Christie was not always in favor of internet gambling. Two years ago, he vetoed an earlier version of the bill, saying that “any effort to expand casino gambling outside ofAtlantic Citymust be supported by referendum.” He relented after the Legislature agreed to put safeguards in place.