What Christie's Conditional Veto Means for Poker
Online poker caught one of its best breaks in years in the battle for legal and regulated status in the U.S. last week. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill to legalize various forms of online gaming in his state.
In 2011, Christie outright vetoed a similar bill which was a blow to online poker proponents. This time around, Christie's conditional veto is a much better result for poker.
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Two Small Conditions
In New Jersey, the governor's desk has the power to "conditionally veto" a bill which in the case of this Internet gaming bill is not all that different from actually signing it into law. By conditionally vetoing the bill, Christie has put the onus on the state's legislative bodies to make changes to the bill. The good news for poker is that Christie's requests for changes to the bill are fairly minor in nature and widely expected to pass both legislative bodies.
"Now is the time for our state to move forward, again leading the way for the nation, by becoming one of the first states to permit Internet gaming," said Christie. The first of two small changes Christie is requesting prior to signing this bill into law is for the tax rate on casinos to be increased to 15% from 10%.
Christie's second condition is to put a ten-year expiry on the bill which would require the state to double-down on enacting it as law sometime in the next decade.
New Jersey Timeline
State Senator Ray Lesniak, the primary sponsor of the New Jersey online gaming bill, said he anticipates the state's legislatures will give the bill final approval on March 18th. The bill would then, presumably, be signed into law by Governor Christie within the following 45 days.
Lesniak said he believes online gaming will be up and running in New Jersey by the fall after the Department of Gaming Enforcement reviews applications from hopeful operators. This may be an overly optimistic timeline; the state of Nevada still does not have any online poker platforms up and running despite legislation which was passed more than a year ago.
The Bigger Picture
Legal online poker in New Jersey is fairly inconsequential in and of itself. After all, only around 3% of U.S. residents live in New Jersey. However, news of Christie conditionally endorsing an online gaming bill in his state does contain hope for a positive ripple effect in the U.S. in a number of ways.
First, this bill could create a road to multi-state compacts that allow residents from other U.S. states to opt-in to New Jersey's legal online gaming network. It will be a lengthy road to multi-state player pools but it's only a few more baby steps away in the right direction. At some point, New Jersey will need some indication of a federal blessing to begin opening its doors to players from other states.
Additionally, this news could be an indication of a shift in political attitudes towards online gaming. Chris Christie is viewed as an important figure in the Republican party and is among the names commonly tossed around as possible candidates for President in 2016. If Christie can point to an example of a successful implementation of online gaming in New Jersey, he could become an important figure for implementing federal legislation in the latter part of this decade. At the very least, a party heavyweight endorsing online gaming should cause other Republicans to pause before vilifying the activity.
Finally, this news could mean PokerStars is mere months away from returning to the U.S. market. The New Jersey bill ensures that only Atlantic City casino owners will be allowed to function as operators in the state's online gaming industry. True to form for PokerStars, they agreed to purchase the Atlantic Club Casino in Atlantic City earlier this month. Provided there are no hitches in their plan to acquire that property, PokerStars will be among those vying for a New Jersey online gaming license in the second half of 2013.