Bill to let NJ take foreign net bet firms advances

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News,Business,New Jersey

A plan to let New Jersey casino regulators oversee foreign Internet gambling companies if they shift their operations to Atlantic City moved a step closer to approval on Monday.

The state Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee approved the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak. He says many overseas gambling companies want the stamp of approval that would come from submitting to New Jersey's casino regulators, who are reputed to be among the strictest in the nation.

"This could help make New Jersey the leader in online gaming, across the country and around the world," Lesniak said. "We could be the 'Silicon Valley' for high-tech gaming. We should take advantage of this dynamic opportunity for a business sector with enormous growth potential."

The foreign firms would not be able to take bets from anyone in the United States.

They would pay the same 15 percent tax that New Jersey's casinos do on Internet revenue.

But lawmakers dropped a provision in the original bill requiring the firms to contribute to a fund to raise $20 million a year for three years to help New Jersey's struggling horse racing industry.

"International Internet gaming is already taking place," said Sen. Jim Whelan, a former mayor of Atlantic City. "This gives Atlantic City the opportunity to build and expand on its casino business. We have the stability and security of a regulated marketplace, we have an educated workforce, and a high-tech infrastructure. We can make New Jersey and Atlantic City a digital destination for Internet gaming."

The move comes as Internet gambling is off to a relatively slow start in New Jersey. The state began online betting in late November as a way to help Atlantic City's 11 casinos compete with gambling options in nearby states.

The casinos' online operations have won $19.7 million in the first two months of this year.

Nearly 250,000 online gambling accounts have been created in New Jersey since the state began Internet betting on Nov. 21.

The bill now goes to the state senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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