Last spring Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have legalized online gambling, citing state constitutional concerns. However, a state Senate committee advanced bill S1565, Authorizing internet wagering at Atlantic City casinos under certain circumstances and amending and supplementing the “Casino Control Act”, on Monday despite opposition and the threat of legal action from the horse racing industry. The state’s constitution currently limits wagering to Atlantic City, except for horse racing, lottery, raffles and bingo, and any expansion generally requires that voters amend the constitution.
Democrats and sponsors of bill S1565, Raymond Lesniak and Jim Whelan agreed to forgo the help for horse racing. This action by bill supporters Lesniak and Whelan prompted Barbara DeMarco, a horse racing lobbyist for Porzio Governmental Affairs to say the change could lead to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the expanded gambling.
Representatives of the Meadowlands Racetrack and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey also said they don’t support the current bill, citing its impact on horse racing betting. “We believe it will draw from existing wagering pools,” said Tom Luchento, president of the horsemen’s group.
“I feel like I’m being blackmailed. If you don’t do this, we’re going to put a gun to your head, and we’re going to screw it up for the entire state of New Jersey, and then what will happen is we will have Internet gaming, but it will be based in Maryland or Delaware and everybody loses,” Whelan responded. “I‘m open to discussion but I don’t like a gun being put to my head and being told, ‘You will do this or else we will blow this whole thing up.’”
Governor Christie said he hasn’t been briefed on the progress, “I have great personal interest in it and want to see what they’re working on and hope we get to a point where we can overcome some of the concerns that I had when the bill was passed before when I issued a conditional veto,” the Republican governor said. “We’re in constant meetings. We had a great meeting with Sen. Lesniak last week. He’s working hard with us.”
The Senate Government and Wagering Committee passed the bill in a 3-0 vote with two abstentions despite the warning from the horsemen.
Reported by Maggie B.