Get ready for betting in your jammies, at work, from the kitchen table, or at the beach: New Jerseyans — and possibly many others — will soon be able to gamble over the Internet.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill Tuesday legalizing Internet gambling, hours after the state legislature passed a revised bill that made the changes he wanted. They included setting a 10-year trial period for online betting, and raising the taxes on the Atlantic City casinos' online winnings from 10 to 15 percent.
New Jersey became the third state in the nation to legalize gambling over the Internet. The lawmakers' votes and Christie's signature marked the largest expansion of legalized gambling in New Jersey since the first casino began operating in Atlantic City in 1978.
Nevada and Delaware have passed laws legalizing Internet betting, which also is going on offshore, untaxed and unregulated.
"This was a critical decision, and one that I did not make lightly," Christie said. "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 idea is to help the struggling casinos by attracting new gamblers who are not now visiting the casinos. The comps, like free hotel rooms, show tickets, meals or other freebies, would be accrued from online play, but would have to be redeemed in person at a casino, presumably enticing a player to spend more money while there.
Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, welcomed the new opportunities for his industry.
"The objectives for the continued stabilization, development and success of Atlantic City that Gov. Christie and our legislature has facilitated over the past couple of years have taken a significant step forward today with the passage of Internet gaming," he said.
The advent of Internet gambling is particularly good news for one of Atlantic City's most struggling casinos, The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel. It is in the process of being bought by the parent company of PokerStars, the world's largest poker web site.
"Our state leaders have stepped up, worked together and seized this moment," said Michael Frawley, the casino's chief operating officer. "New Jersey will be better for it as the benefits of I-gaming for our state are only beginning to be fully appreciated. We strongly believe that the economic development and reinvestment in Atlantic City, driven through I-gaming, will be remembered as a critical turning point for this proud town. We look forward to the renewed success this new law will surely bring."
The state is counting on that success, too. Budget figures released Tuesday by Christie envision contributions to the state's Casino Revenue Fund soaring from $235 million this year to $436 million next year, largely due to an influx of online gambling revenue.
But Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, worried that expanding gambling options will increase the ranks of the estimated 350,000 New Jerseyans with a gambling problem. He also expressed concern about young, tech-savvy people developing gambling problems from playing online.
The bill will not take effect until the state Division of Gaming Enforcement sets a start date, sometime between three and nine months after the law is signed. Casino executives have estimated it could take six months to a year to get the system up and running.
It would allow the playing online, for money, of any game currently offered by Atlantic City's 12 casinos; online poker is expected to be a particularly popular option.
"I'm sure I'll experience it firsthand," said Jonathan Wanchalk, a Lancaster, Pa., business owner who said he frequently played poker online before a federal crackdown on offshore betting sites. "In college, I played poker a lot. It's basically where all my money came from. Especially with poker, when it was allowed and then it wasn't, I'm as curious as anyone else to see how it plays out."
Gamblers would have to set up online accounts with a particular casino, and could set daily limits on their play.
They also would be subject to the same per-hand limits as gamblers physically present in the casino. Casino executives say final rules have to be approved by the gambling enforcement division, but they expect the state to require gamblers to have to appear in person at a casino to open their accounts and verify their age, identity and other personal information. Payouts could be made remotely to a credit card account or bank account when a player cashes out, if the state approves such an arrangement, the executives said.
They conceivably could even gamble through social media sites, as long as the sites worked with casinos that have an online gambling license, according to state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.
Joe Brennan Jr., director of the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, said a new industry is ready to take off.
"We were always confident this day would come, because even after he vetoed the original iGaming bill, Gov. Christie immediately came back to us, to try and find a way to make this happen," Brennan said. "It took a little longer than we expected, but in the end, it was done right, and now it's time for Atlantic City to take this and run with it."
And the Poker Players Alliance hailed the law's enactment.
"New Jersey has gone 'all in,' " said John Pappas, executive director of the group, which claims 1 million members, 20,000 of which live in New Jersey. "Residents now will have access to a safe and regulated online gaming market, and the state will have a new source for revenue and job creation — something the federal government has failed to do thus far."
The bill allows gamblers in other states to place bets in New Jersey as long as regulators determine such activity is not prohibited by federal or any state's law. It even has provisions for allowing people in other countries to play, although federal law would have to be changed before that could happen, Lesniak said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC