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Governor Christie Conditionally Vetoes iGaming Bill: What About Poker?

February 8th, 2013 2 comments

Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie acted on the internet gambling bill sitting on his desk during the final moments of his forty-five day time-frame. He could have (i) taken no action, thus allowing the bill to become law, (ii) vetoed the bill, or (iii) conditionally vetoed the bill, recommending changes to the legislation that he would sign off on.

The Governor’s conditional veto has apparently generated little, if any, initial opposition. State legislators and other interested parties believe the proposed changes are non-issues and that internet gambling in New Jersey is going to happen.

For a clear and concise read on the events surrounding the Governor’s conditional veto, be sure to check out this piece at Online Poker Report. The “short answer” on what Governor Christie wants changed:

  • Taxes at 15%, not 10%
  • License fees roughly double
  • NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement takes the reigns of online gambling
  • Online gambling regulation “sunsets” (expires) after 10 years (though nothing prohibits the legislature from renewing)
  • More funding for problem gambling initiatives, including an annual report wrt the impact of online gambling on problem gambling

Online Poker Report also delves into a “longer answer” on the changes. There are a couple in particular that raise some interesting questions.

Authorizing Online Poker in New Jersey

I came across this thread on the TwoPlusTwo forums. The original poster wondered whether online poker would be authorized under the Governor’s proposed changes.

The conditional veto calls for this language to be deleted from the bill:

2. (New section) Any authorized game or authorized gambling game, as defined in section 5 of P.L.1977, c.110 (C.5:12-5), that is authorized to be played in a casino may, with the approval of the division, be offered through Internet gaming.

And to be replaced with:

2. Section 5 of P.L.1977, c.110 (C.5:12-5) is amended to read as follows:

“Authorized Game” or “Authorized Gambling Game” – Roulette, baccarat, blackjack, craps, big six wheel, slot machines, minibaccarat, red dog, paigow, and sic bo; any variations or composites of such games, provided that such variations or composites are found by the division suitable for use after an appropriate test or experimental period under such terms and conditions as the division may deem appropriate; and any other game which is determined by the division to be compatible with the public interest and to be suitable for casino use after such appropriate test or experimental period as the division may deem appropriate.  “Authorized game” or “authorized gambling game” includes gaming tournaments in which 6 players compete against one another in one or more of the games authorized herein or by the division or in approved variations or composites thereof if the tournaments are authorized by the division.  “Authorized game” or “Authorized gambling game” shall also include any game that the division may determine by regulation to be suitable for use for wagering through the Internet.

No, you don’t see the word “poker” anywhere, although other games are listed. What, then, is the authority for permitting online poker under this legislation?

The language proposed in the original bill says the Division of Gaming Enforcement may approve for internet gaming any games only already authorized to be played at New Jersey casinos. Since poker is authorized for play in NJ casinos, then the division may approve it for internet gaming.

The Governor’s proposed language (underlined portion above) takes a different approach. Instead, he wants the Division of Gaming Enforcement to decide pursuant to promulgated regulations the games that are suitable for internet gaming. From my reading, it appears that the division would not be limited to approving for internet gaming those games only already authorized for play in NJ casinos, but instead may approve for internet gaming any game the division so chooses.

The proposed change runs consistent with the Governor’s conditional veto statement, which makes clear his goal to grant the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement “wide latitude and authority to establish a regulatory framework that provides for the most effective controls, monitoring, and supervision” of internet gaming.

What wouldn’t surprise me is if the division takes a cautious approach with poker. Games not against the house (i.e. player-against-player) raise various unique issues, such as collusion, that require special attention and consideration.

Poker will be a part of internet gaming New Jersey. Governor Christie is just giving the division the apparently unilateral power to figure out how to bring the game—any games, for that matter—online in the state.

Pooling Liquidity

Another proposed change pointed out at Online Poker Report:

Page 32, Section 33, Line 47: Delete “an interstate compact” and insert “a reciprocal agreement”

The phrase “interstate compact” is found in section 33 of the bill:

33.  (New section)  Notwithstanding any other provision of P.L.      , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), wagers may be accepted thereunder from persons who are not physically present in this State if the Division of Gaming Enforcement in the Department of Law and Public Safety determines that such wagering is not inconsistent with federal law or the law of the jurisdiction, including any foreign nation, in which any such person is located, or such wagering is conducted pursuant to an interstate compact to which this State is a party that is not inconsistent with federal law.

Interstate compacts are agreements entered into between two or more states. Under the U.S. Constitution, interstate compacts require congressional consent.

Perhaps the Governor is anticipating possible legal challenges to agreements entered into with other states for internet gaming. If the iGaming law acknowledges that the agreement is an “interstate compact,” then the State is essentially admitting that the agreement is subject to Congressional approval under the compact clause. By labeling these possible future agreements as something else, the State at least leaves the question open as to whether the agreement is one subject to the compact clause.

With that said, is there any special significance with using the phrase “reciprocal agreement?” Perhaps. As fellow gaming attorney Bob Crawford noted on Twitter, it’s possible that a reciprocal agreement would require other states to accept NJ players, but an interstate compact might not.

We should continue to think on this issue. As I’ve previously discussed, how states seek to pool virtual liquidity may prove critical on how the internet gaming market thrives in the United States.

In the meantime, NJ Assemblyman John Amodeo said he is working “to get these [proposed amendments] passed by the Legislature as soon as possible and back onto the Governor’s desk for consideration.”

Yesterday’s conditional veto was a very significant step along the path towards regulated internet gambling in the United States.

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