New Jersey Bill Would Authorize Internet Gaming Cafes at Racetracks
Still trying to come up with ways to grow gambling outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey legislators are now proposing the idea of expanding online gambling to other areas of the state. Now, at first whiff, that sounds strange; there is already online casino and online poker all over New Jersey. It’s the internet, after all. But in New Jersey, all online gaming operations have to be located on the property of an Atlantic City casino, so even though people from all over the Garden State can play, not just anyone or any business can benefit from the industry.
Thus, to spread the love, so to speak, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would permit racetracks to enter into agreements with Atlantic City casinos to allow patrons of those racetracks to gamble online. The idea would be that venues such as Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport or Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment in East Rutherford would have internet gaming cafes of sorts on the premises with special access to online gambling sites operated by an Atlantic City partner. Assembly Bill 4255 (A4255) was originally introduced in October and referred to the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee and on December 5th was adopted by the Committee as a “substitute,” which essentially means (if I’m understanding this correctly) that it was combined with other related bills.
Of course, this plan kind of ignores the fact that anyone who has internet access could just gamble on a mobile device, anyway, or maybe use a laptop with an internet connection to play on any of the active Atlantic City online gambling sites. Nobody needs a special gaming room at a racetrack to play on WSOP.com.
But I suppose there may be a sizable enough portion of race fans that would not have thought to check out online poker or casino games, so when they see the internet gaming café, it may spark an interest.
Dennis Drazin, adviser to Monmouth Park Racetrack, told The Press of Atlantic City, “This is a win-win for both the racetracks and the casino industry. This would be purely at the will of the casinos. I believe this would give casinos a chance to grow their business. It would give them a chance to grow their online business. They don’t have to do it if they don’t want to.”
Anthony Marino, a former executive of the South Jersey Transportation Authority and now an expert on the local markets, said that increasing the availability of gambling around New Jersey could reduce the number of visitors who make the trek to Atlantic City. He told The Press:
Allowing any form of casino-like gaming at the Meadowlands, Freehold or Monmouth Park racetracks would most likely have a negative impact on visitation numbers in Atlantic City, although probably not as much as allowing actual full-service casinos as proposed in the recently defeated North Jersey casino referendum. The rapid rise of internet gaming in New Jersey has already cut into visitor numbers traveling to Atlantic City; expanding that experience to racetracks close to the dense central and North Jersey population would give additional convenience gamblers reason to avoid the journey south to Atlantic City.
Again, it seems like a bit of a stretch to think that putting online gambling areas in racetracks would put a significant dent in Atlantic City traffic. There is absolutely no reason that anyone would have to go to a racetrack to play online. Plus, as Drazin said, it very well could be a win-win, as it’s not like a participating casino would see its internet traffic figures go down because it partnered with a racetrack. More potential eyeballs can only be good.
The “recently defeated North Jersey casino referendum” mentioned by Marino was a measure on the November ballot that asked residents of the state whether or not the construction of two casinos outside of Atlantic City should be authorized. Voters overwhelmingly said no; more than three quarters of the votes were against the proposal.
Currently, casinos in New Jersey may only be built in Atlantic City. Over the past decade or so, however, gambling revenues have fallen significantly for a number of reasons, including an economic downturn and burgeoning competition from neighboring states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York. The legalization and regulation of internet gambling in the state aimed to give Atlantic City a bit of a boost. The idea behind the referendum was not so much to help Atlantic City (though the proposal would have funneled money from the two new casinos to Atlantic City casinos in order to help), but to give New Jersey residents a reason to stay in state for their brick-and-mortar gambling. Gamblers in the northern part of the state are closer to out-of-state casinos than they are to Atlantic City and convenience is a much stronger pull than state loyalty. Putting the casinos up there may very well have enticed many to keep their gambling dollars in New Jersey.