The state Assembly has approved a new bill authorizing online gambling. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the last such legislative foray toward Internet gambling, in part because it included a large subsidy for horse-racing purses that is not in the latest proposal.
Christie has not indicated which way he is leaning on the current plan. But he should sign off this time around. Trying to stop online gambling in New Jersey only delays the inevitable and may cost the state untold millions in the process.
The overriding question here isn’t if New Jersey, and the rest of the nation, will have legal online gaming, but when. And there are some potentially significant benefits to New Jersey acting soon that go beyond an earlier start on collecting fresh tax money on casino revenues.
Several states, including Nevada and Delaware, appear headed toward launching online gambling as soon as next year, and others will certainly follow. Industry experts say that the states getting in on the ground floor will also have an advantage in potentially running the operations for other states that are late joining the party.
Critics of the plan say online gambling could eliminate casino jobs here in South Jersey as gamblers opt for Internet convenience over a trip to Atlantic City. The horse-racing industry also fears that another means of gambling without going to a track will threaten the state’s entire horse industry.
Those concerns shouldn’t be ignored, but at the same time, this all sounds far too much like the kind of self-defeating caution that has largely paralyzed the state’s gaming industry for years, allowing neighboring states to siphon off business.
Today’s technology increasingly makes attempted legislative obstacles to electronic gambling futile. Motivated New Jersey gamblers can still find betting outlets based in other nations easily enough — and if the state keeps balking at catching up with the times, the only result will be a loss of would-be tax revenue on the action.
One of the major online poker websites, PokerStars, is seeking to buy the Atlantic Club Casino (formerly the Hilton) in Atlantic City. If New Jersey moves to legalize online gaming, that would no doubt be a favorable signal to PokerStars, and increase the chances that the poker website moves its operation here.
As we have likewise supported the state’s effort to lift an unfair federal ban on sports betting in 46 states, we also encourage state lawmakers to follow through in authorizing online gambling. There may be some risk involved, but the risk from more inaction is greater.