The New Jersey Assembly approved a measure Thursday that would permit horse racing tracks to operate internet gambling cafes. Assembly Bill 4255 was introduced back in October 2016, but was finally subjected to a vote this week. It squeaked by in a 4-3 vote in the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee a year ago and then, earlier today, passed the full Assembly rather easily by a 60-12-1 vote.
Current New Jersey gambling law stipulates that casinos can only be located in Atlantic City. Further, though online gambling is regulated and legal in the state, a site’s servers must be located on the property of an Atlantic City casino. The bill adds the following language, creating an exception of sorts:
This section shall not prohibit a casino in Atlantic City, or such a casino’s Internet gaming affiliate, from entering into an agreement with a running or harness horse racetrack in this State, under which the racetrack’s premises may be made available for placing wagers at casinos using the Internet, as permitted by section 2 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and shall not prohibit advertising that a racetrack’s premises may be used for such purpose.
This is expanded in the next paragraph:
2. (New section) A running or harness horse racetrack in this State may enter into an agreement with a casino located in Atlantic City, or such a casino’s Internet gaming affiliate, that allows the racetrack’s premises to be available as a venue at which the holder of an Internet gaming account may place wagers at casinos using the Internet. Any such agreement shall be submitted to the Division of Gaming Enforcement for the division’s approval, which shall not be unreasonably withheld. The division shall have jurisdiction over Internet gaming at casinos that originates from racetracks and shall establish minimum standards for the equipment used and locations at a racetrack from which wagers may be placed. Internet gaming from racetracks shall not be subject to regulation by the New Jersey
Racing Commission. A casino, or its Internet gaming affiliate, shall compensate a racetrack licensee for its services as provided in the terms of the agreement. The provisions of P.L.2013, c.27 (C.5:12-95.17 et al.) shall apply to the placing of wagers at casinos from racetracks except where inconsistent with the provisions of this section.
So, what we are looking at here is an amendment to New Jersey’s gambling law which would allow horse tracks to partner with Atlantic City casinos to essentially become satellite online gaming locations. Special internet cafes or lounges would be setup with computers dedicated to gambling on partner site. These cafes would be regulated by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, not the New Jersey Racing Commission, as aside from their location, they have nothing to do with racing.
On its face, this bill sounds rather dumb and pointless, as internet gambling is legal in New Jersey as long as someone is located within the state’s borders. Anyone could go hang out at a race track, pull out their smartphone or laptop, and play on one of the state’s online poker or online casino sites. There is really no need for this from the consumer’s perspective.
What this bill does, however, is help the race tracks. They have wanted things like slot machines and video poker installed on their properties, but the law never allowed for that, so an online gambling café is a decent substitute. We don’t know if the computers will be setup to only run certain games or if players can logon to their internet gambling accounts (provided it is with a partner casino) and play as they would like, but either way would likely work for the race track. It is also unknown whether or not race tracks would charge customers a fee to play, but I, personally, would guess not, as it sounds like the race track will be earning a cut from the casino, anyway. It would be silly to put up a barrier to entry for its customers.
Should this bill get through the Senate and then get signed into law by the Governor, it may also eventually pave the way for more gambling outside of Atlantic City. The state’s residents shot down a referendum last fall that would have permitted casinos to be built elsewhere in New Jersey. If internet gambling cafes get installed in horse racing tracks, the Nostradamus in me could see people getting used to them to the point where they are eventually okay with real casino gambling outside of Atlantic City.