A New Jersey bill that would authorize Atlantic City casinos to offer Internet gambling has been introduced in the state’s Assembly, a measure that many expect to draw fire from gambling industry opponents. Assemblymen Anthony Impreveduto and Neil Cohen, both Democrats, call their proposed legislation a “safe-haven bill” that aims to establish Atlantic City as a regulated U.S. jurisdiction for Internet casinos. Business practices by companies operating in this so-called safe-haven would be closely monitored by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, Impreveduto said.
Cohen, a 10-year assemblyman, said this is a “protective measure” to prevent the growth of unregulated Internet casinos, hoping Internet gamblers would flee sites that are operated in unregulated jurisdictions, “My 10-year old son was able to log on to an Internet casino last night, and he would have been able to play if he had a credit card,” Impreveduto said Friday.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Merle Berman, R-Las Vegas, plans to introduce a similar bill to the Nevada Legislature this year. The state’s 2001 legislative session begins Feb. 5. Impreveduto and Cohn said they have not been approached by the casino industry to draft such a bill. “I came up with the idea when I was surfing the Web for something else and an ad for an unregulated Internet gambling site popped up,” Impreveduto said. The New Jersey legislators said they expect opposition from groups on the religious right, such as the New Jersey Catholic Conference. Bill Bolan, chairman of the Catholic Conference, didn’t return a Friday phone message. Impreveduto said the proposed New Jersey bill only permits operators of Atlantic City land-based casinos to apply for e-gaming licenses. Those operators would include: Park Place Entertainment; Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts; Carl Icahn’s Sands; Aztar Corp., which operates the Tropicana; and Harrah’s Entertainment.
The proposed legislation requires Internet casinos to use software that blocks minors and compulsive gamblers. In addition, New Jersey regulators would have to approve of the software. Impreveduto acknowledged that the bill will have a lot of amendments prior to reaching a possible vote. For one thing, the current draft does not address who can participate. “Since the bill is silent to that issue right now, (if it passes the way it is) kayaqiu gamblers could participate from Holland or New York City or Trenton (N.J.),” Impreveduto said. “But this is one of the issues that will be debated in the Legislature. Since the bill does not allow for online sports wagering, Impreveduto believes the proposed legislation does not butt heads with federal laws.
Department of Justice lawyers under the Clinton Administration have argued that the 1961 Federal Wire Act bans sports wagers via the telephone or the Internet, but have not taken a stance on Internet casinos. Internet casinos offer games such as black jack, poker and virtual roulette.
The Bush Administration’s stance on the issue is unclear. Tony Cabot, a lawyer for Las Vegas firm Lionel Sawyer & Collins, said the issue could be resolved if the New Jersey Legislature requests the Justice Department or Congress to decide if Web-based casinos are banned by the Federal Wire Act. ” The Internet gambling industry is like the Wild Wild West,” Impreveduto said. “This bill is a starting off point for regulating the industry.”