A package of bills sponsored by New Jersey Senate Democrats intended to help resuscitate the state's struggling casino and horse-racing industries was approved by the full Senate today.
Among them is legislation to allow New Jersey and international residents only to place Internet wagers; a bill that would allow exchange wagering, in which gamblers place opposing wagers on a horse race; and one that would allow racetracks to combine all wagers placed on the results of one or more runnings or harness horse races into a single pari-mutuel pool, thus reducing the adverse effect of large payouts.
In addition to the half-dozen Senate bills, the full Assembly approved legislation Monday to allow 200-room casino hotels to be built in Atlantic City, below the current 500-room minimum. The Senate passed the measure Sept. 30.
In all, the Senate passed a half-dozen bills that now head 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 co-chair 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 were the result of three hearings that made up a statewide summit held on issues pertaining to the gaming and wagering economic sectors earlier this year. The trio of hearings took place in Atlantic City, the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, N.J., and Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
"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) and a member of the Legislative Gaming Summit. "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 they were also intended to keep jobs and gaming revenues in the Garden State at a time when Atlantic City's 11 casinos are struggling mightily against new competition from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Maryland.
Whelan sponsored S-1866, which would authorize the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to have the option of licensing a small-scale casino project, which could have no more than 24,000 square feet of casino space and only 200 hotel rooms. The current law requires at least 500 rooms at the Shore resort.
The bill, which passed the Assembly, 32-0, and had been approved by the full Senate earlier, and now heads to Gov. Christie's office to be signed.
"Through this legislation, we'll be inviting new investment to revitalize blighted areas in Atlantic City," Whelan said. "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."
Bergen County Democrat Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, is behind two bills to help the state's horse tracks. One bill would make various changes to the state's "Off-Track and Account Wagering Act," 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 by dedicating an amount equal to the sales and use taxes associated with horse racing, breeding, training, raising or boarding to programs.
Sarlo and Whelan teamed up on another bill, to lower the minimum requirement for the number of standardbred horse racing dates scheduled at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway to 100 dates a season at each track. The facilities would model the successful first-year trial run of reduced race days at Monmouth Race Track.