N.J. bills aim to revive struggling gaming industries

The bills result from a N.J. summit on gaming and wagering. In July, Gov. Christie announced that the state would take control of A.C. gambling districts.

A legislative package sponsored by New Jersey Senate Democrats to help resuscitate the state's struggling casino and horse-racing industries was approved by the full Senate Monday.

Included are measures that would allow New Jersey and international residents to place Internet wagers at Atlantic City casinos; allow exchange wagering, in which gamblers place opposing wagers on a horse race; and allow racetracks to combine all wagers placed on the results of one or more runnings or harness races into a single pari-mutuel pool, thus reducing the adverse effect of large payouts.

Meanwhile, the full Assembly approved legislation allowing in Atlantic City casino hotels with 200 rooms rather than the 500-room minimum now required - a measure the Senate passed Sept. 30.

Also on Monday, the Senate approved a half-dozen bills now headed to the Assembly for consideration.

"The package of bills authored by Senate Democrats represents a fair approach to bolstering our casinos and racetracks and ensuring a healthy, robust statewide economy for many years to come," said Sen. Jim Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor and cochair of the Legislative Gaming Summit. "We still have more work to do, but these seven bills represent a great start in stabilizing our gaming economy."

The bills resulted from the statewide summit's three hearings earlier this year on issues pertaining to gaming and wagering. The hearings at Atlantic City, the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, and Monmouth Park in Oceanport reviewed the recommendations of a committee appointed by Gov. Christie to look into the future of gambling and horse racing in the Garden State.

"This isn't about one region of the state over another, but about a statewide, forward-thinking approach to stabilizing and enhancing our economy," said Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D., Gloucester), a summit member. "It's about giving casinos and racetracks the tools they need to stay competitive and remain economically productive for many years to come."

The lawmakers said the measures also aimed to keep jobs and gaming revenues in New Jersey at a time when Atlantic City's 11 casinos, which employ 38,000-plus, are struggling mightily against new competition from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and Maryland.

Of his proposal to introduce Internet wagering limited to New Jersey residents and international bettors, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D., Union) said, "It would generate millions of dollars in private revenue and would give casinos a new product to capture gaming dollars from tech-savvy gamblers." Atlantic City's casinos would operate the online-wagering operations.

Whelan sponsored the bill giving the Casino Control Commission the option of licensing smaller-scale projects in Atlantic City with no more than 20,000 square feet of casino space and only 200 hotel rooms. Current law requires, at minimum, 60,000-square-foot casinos with at least 500 rooms.

That measure, which passed the Assembly, 32-0, now heads to Christie's office for signature.

"Unless we diversify the gaming product in Atlantic City - and that means being open to boutique casinos - the market will stagnate and decay as competition builds just beyond our borders," Whelan said.

Bergen County Democrat Sen. Paul A. Sarlo is behind two Senate bills aimed at helping the state's four horse tracks. One would make various changes to current law to ensure that offtrack wagering facilities are being built in a timely fashion. The other is designed to improve and promote thoroughbred and standardbred horse breeding in New Jersey through a dedicated amount to such programs equal to the sales and use taxes associated with horse racing, breeding, training, raising, or boarding.

Sarlo and Whelan teamed up on another bill that would lower to 100 a season the minimum number of standardbred horse-racing dates scheduled at the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway. The facilities would adopt as their model the successful trial run of reduced race days at Monmouth Park earlier this year, which resulted in larger purses and more prestigious races.


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.