New Jersey State Sen. Ray Lesniak is in full sound-off mode with the concerns Gov. Chris Christie presented in his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio segment on January 22nd, on New Jersey 101.5 FM. A caller asked Christie's position on the bill that would allow online gambling legislation and Christie responded that he had yet to make a final decision but had two concerns:
Here are the two things I'm concerned about. First is, I don't know that it really will help Atlantic City, and I'm concerned that it may drive traffic away from Atlantic City. That if people can gamble in their own homes on their laptops, why are they going to go to Atlantic City? And I think that's contrary to what we're trying to accomplish there. Secondly, I'm also really concerned about setting up a whole new generation of addicted gamblers. If you can sit on the edge of your bed with your laptop and gamble away the paycheck, that's a lot different than making the conscious decision of going go down to Atlantic City to gamble in a casino. So I've got those two concerns. I haven't made a final decision yet, but I have those two concerns and you should know that that's the way I feel, and that's in part the reasons that I vetoed the bill before, in addition to some ways it was constructed which I thought made no sense either. So I'm taking a very close look at it, I was reading it over the weekend, reading a briefing from my staff in depth, and I'm going to have to make a decision in the next couple of days.
Lesniak sees online poker as a marketing deivce for Atlantic City casino that would be able to provide comps to people for online play and that could attract virtual players into the casinos. "If he vetoes the bill for those reasons, that has to go down for stupidest reasons to veto a bill ever given,” Lesniak, the leading sponsor of the bill, said Thursday in a phone interview. “More importantly, it would just put another nail in the coffin for any hope of economic recovery and job creation in Atlantic City."
Lesniak is having issues with the fact that Christie is concerned about "setting up a whole new generation of addicted gamblers" when Christie is in support of lottery expansion.
“Five houses from where I live, there's a convenience store where I always see people lined up to buy lottery tickets,” Lesniak said. “He has no concern for those low-income residents and how gambling affects their lives, but he is concerned about the relatively high-wage earners that make up the demographic of online poker players.”
“He's clueless,” Lesniak said as he finessed the situation with Christie. “He thinks he knows better than all the Atlantic City casinos, because they know it will help their bottom line and keep their jobs and money going. There are economic studies that this will generate business and doesn't drive traffic away.”
A research report released January 24th by Wells Fargo Securities gaming analyst Dennis Farrell Jr. called online gambling “a lifeline” to Atlantic City casinos. Gaming revenues have declined for six straight years in Atlantic City.
An additional $1.5 billion for Atlantic City casinos could be generated over the first five years in Farrell's estimation of online gambling which would increase the areas' gaming revenue by 50 percent and provide up to $150 million in annual tax revenue to the state.
“Opponents of the bill believe online gaming will lead to job losses at brick-and-mortar casinos,” Farrell wrote. “We beg to differ, as we believe online gaming sites operated by state casino operators will lead to job creation and drive visitation to Atlantic City.”
Online gambling can bring outside investments to Atlantic City which has already been shown through the Rational Group's, the parent company of online poker giant PokerStars, interest in purchasing the struggling Atlantic Club Hotel Casino.
The state Senate and Lesniak passed the legislation on December 20th and even if Christie signs it, Lesniak isn't happy that the governor made New Jersey wait and Nevada is in fast-forward mode to get online poker cards in the air.
"My concern is that he didn't sign it a month ago,” Lesniak said. “Every month that goes by, Atlantic City is bleeding revenue and so is the state. Let's get on with it, governor. If the governor doesn't sign it, Nevada is just going to clean our clocks plain and simple."