Today is a big day in the online gambling industry. The first ever legal online casinos in the United States went live today. Online poker went live in Nevada a few months ago and Delaware already legalized online gambling, but New Jersey is the first state to actually get it done. For the first time in the history of the United States, American citizens can play at legal, regulated online casinos.
Americans have been gambling online for years now, but this is the first time they’ll be doing it at casino sites that are located in the US and with full approval of the government. These casino sites are under purview of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and are subject to all the laws of the United States.
Those of you who worried about the safety of online gambling in the past can rest at ease. Casino sites in New Jersey are now subject to the same regulations as the biggest brick-and-mortar establishments.
Today is the result of several years’ worth of work between the New Jersey legislature and governor Chris Christie. Agreements were reached earlier this year and the state moved quickly to set up the framework to actually make it happen. Today is the culmination of all that work. Today, you can play blackjack, roulette, slot machines, online poker and other games for real money.
This only affects residents in New Jersey, but it’s still a big deal. We will finally get to see how well the US can manage online gambling. Will people sign up and play? Did the state provide adequate protections for minors and problem gamblers? The law looks good on paper, but now we will see how it all plays out in the real world.
We will also see how much demand there really is for online gambling and poker. Up until now, players have operated in a sort of “black market” environment playing at unregulated, offshore websites. With a population of nearly 10 million people, New Jersey will finally give us hard numbers on demand, turnover and so on.
How it Works
The legislation allowed existing land-based casino operators to apply for licenses to offer gambling in New Jersey. Each casino was given the ability to host a limited number of online gambling and poker websites. Each casino also partnered with an existing software provider to make it happen.
Many of the software providers are already big names in their own right. For example, Caesars teamed up with 888 Holdings. 888 is already one of the biggest names in the international gambling and poker markets. They have the experience necessary to help old-school casino operators transition to the digital age with minimal hiccups.
If you want to gamble for real money at any of these sites, you must be at least 21 years old and be a resident of New Jersey. Everyone else is still welcome to visit the sites and play with fake chips, but only NJ residents 21+ can actually place real money bets.
This is just the first step in what will be a long debate over online gambling in the US. We have powerful groups on both sides of the issue who are looking to either expand online gambling or outlaw it completely. There are still many battles to come in future years.
Those who support online gambling and poker are pushing to get other states to follow New Jersey. Poker groups such as the Poker Player’s Alliance have been lobbying DC for years to relax its stance on poker. Various politicians are also strongly in favor of legalizing and regulating online poker for their own reasons.
The prime supporter behind the gambling bill in New Jersey has already stated his intention to pass even more legislation that would makes New Jersey an international gambling regulatory haven. He wants to let international gaming companies (that don’t offer real money gaming in the US) to set up shop and be licensed to operate by the state of New Jersey.
His reasoning is that right now, most international gambling sites are regulated by authorities in smaller jurisdictions like Malta, Gibraltor and Costa Rica. Here’s how Business Week puts it:
State Senator Raymond Lesniak plans to introduce a bill that would let international companies set up shop in New Jersey and then offer online gambling to people located outside the U.S. The idea is to play on America’s reputation for financial security: Legal gambling operations headquartered in New Jersey would presumably appear less likely to make off with customers’ money or crumble under shifting regulations.
On the other side, we have groups that would love to see online gambling killed completely. Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is going to be throwing big money at DC next year to get online gambling and poker outlawed completely.
Mr. Adelson claims he has a strong “moral opposition” to online gambling. It’s so strong, in fact, that he will be donating millions of dollars to lobbying against gambling-friendly politicians and to anti-gambling advertising. He has no moral qualm with gambling in brick-and-mortar casinos, of course, but he’s so vehemently against online gambling that he wants to ban it entirely.
It surely must just be coincidence, then, that Sheldon Adelson is one of the few casino moguls in the United States to completely forego getting in on the online gambling business himself. While other casino operators prepare for the internet age of gambling, Adelson refuses to get involved. In other words, he stands to lose the most if online gambling goes mainstream in the US.
We also have the usual fundamentalist groups who are against gambling in general for religious reasons. They don’t like brick-and-mortar gambling and they definitely don’t like the idea of online gambling. They will also be fighting this trend every step of the way.
Although I expect opposition to be fierce, I don’t think the anti-gambling groups will win over the long term. There is an undeniable demand for online gambling and poker in the US. Despite the UIGEA and various state laws, millions of Americans gamble online every year. That demand is not going away any time soon.
On top of all that, online gambling is an attractive source of new revenue for cash-strapped states. Online gambling gives politicians an easy way out: capturing new tax dollars without raising taxes.
The only way we could really kill online gambling would be to institute some sort of China-like censorship on the web. And as much as I think the US government is bloating, I don’t think we’re at that point yet. Online gambling is inevitable in a rich, internet-connected country like the US. It’s just a matter of time.
Tagged with: New Jersey