After taking all 45 days to make a decision, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chose to conditionally veto the state's online gambling bill and proposed only minor amendments that will allow the bill to eventually become law.
In his 31-page conditional veto, Christie proposes that online gambling be limited to a 10-year period to determine its effect on the struggling Atlantic City casinos. The governor also would like the bill's tax rate of 10% assessed to online gaming operators be increased to 15%, with much of the additional revenue set aside to fund programs for those with gambling problems.
Those conditions directly address the concerns Christie expressed previously to a caller on a monthly "Ask the Governor" radio broadcast. Christie said at the time that gamblers might stay away from Atlantic City casinos if online gambling were available to them. He was also worried that the ease of Internet gambling might give birth to a whole new breed of compulsive gamblers. But as long as his conditions are met, Christie is prepared to sign the bill into law.
"I have concluded that now is the time for our State to move forward, again leading the way for the nation, by becoming one of the first states to permit Internet gaming,” Christie's statement said.
If the state's online gambling regime does not improve and put an end to the six consecutive years of declining revenue reported by Atlantic City casinos within the 10-year duration of the bill, then it will give “future leaders the perspective and opportunity to revise and renew Internet gaming as appropriate” in 2023, Christie said. However, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ray Lesniak, believes that provision in the bill will be amended or removed in just a few years once online gambling proves to be beneficial to the Garden State.
State legislators will now receive the bill and vote on the conditions suggested by Christie. It is fully expected that the State Senate and Assembly will overwhelmingly approve of Christie's proposal, sending the bill back to the governor for his signature in a few weeks time.
Casinos in Atlantic City currently pay an 8% tax on gambling revenue. There is a mild concern that the 15% tax rate may be more than other states who also approve of online gambling legislation may impose on their online gaming operators. This could become an issue in any possible online poker agreements with other states in the future in an effort to increase player liquidity. However, the tax rate could be amended if the need arises.
The Garden State will likely become the third state to enact online gambling legislation, following Nevada and Delaware. New Jersey gambling websites could be operational by this fall. The current legislation states that sites cannot be up and running prior to 90 days following the governor's signature, but must be operational within six months. Assuming Christie signs the bill next month after the legislature votes on it, New Jersey residents may be legally gambling online come September.