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Policy: Economy

Firm: Tough for bettors to fund online accounts

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Photo - This Nov. 29, 2013 photo shows the result of a losing game of Internet slots on a computer screen in Atlantic City N.J. Statistics released on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, by a company that routes electronic payments show that New Jersey Internet gamblers are successful only 44 percent of the time when trying to use credit cards to fund their online accounts. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This Nov. 29, 2013 photo shows the result of a losing game of Internet slots on a computer screen in Atlantic City N.J. Statistics released on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, by a company that routes electronic payments show that New Jersey Internet gamblers are successful only 44 percent of the time when trying to use credit cards to fund their online accounts. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Since New Jersey began Internet gambling in November, it has been difficult to use a credit card to fund an online betting account.

New statistics from a company that routes those payments show just how hard it has been.

CAMS LLC told The Associated Press on Tuesday that credit cards are being accepted from New Jersey gamblers between 42 and 46 percent of the time. It receives online payments from the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which has the largest share of the state's online market, as well as from the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, and routes them to financial institutions.

Matt Katz, the company's CEO, said low acceptance of credit cards "is the single biggest thing that's holding it back" in New Jersey.

So far this year, Internet gambling has brought in $31.6 million. The fledgling industry is growing, but not as fast as many had hoped. Gov. Chris Christie initially estimated it would bring in $1 billion in its first year, but his state treasurer recently admitted the numbers are coming up far short of that estimate. Wall Street analysts expect online betting to bring in about $200 million in its first year in New Jersey.

Jon Hernandez of Roselle Park was one of the first to gamble online the first morning it was legal last year. But he has yet to make a deposit using a credit card.

"I always have a problem with Visa," he said. "They never take it. I tried to use it on three different sites and it never worked."

Several years ago, in a ruling that led to New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware approving Internet gambling, the U.S. Justice Department said in-state Internet gambling that does not involve sports betting does not run afoul of federal law.

But despite that advice, credit card acceptance has remained low.

"New Jersey patrons continue to experience difficulties in use of their personal credit and debit card accounts in funding individual Internet gaming accounts," said Deputy Attorney General Mary Jo Flaherty with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. "

She said MasterCard has approved 73 percent of attempted transactions in New Jersey since Internet gambling began in November, while Visa has approved 44 percent. American Express and Discover do not approve any such charges, she said. Messages left with those companies on Tuesday seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Carl Zeitz, a former member of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said online payments offer potential rewards and drawbacks for banks. The accounts could create interest revenue for the banks, but also place the banks in the unusual position of having to collect gambling debt — something that the casinos have traditionally done.

Flaherty said the gambling enforcement division "continues to work directly with financial institutions, banks and credit card companies and relevant regulators and authorities with respect to the legality of online gaming where authorized as in New Jersey, as well as regarding the appropriateness of payment processing for legalized online gaming."

In December, 42 percent of players with the Borgata and the two Trump casinos were able to fund accounts using a credit card. That figure rose to 44 percent in January and 46 percent in February before declining to 44 percent in March.

Katz said those figures are nearly identical to its acceptance rates in Nevada and Illinois, where it serves the state lottery.

"As a player, it is worrisome that people aren't able to get money on the site," said Matt Pineault, of Ridgewood, in Bergen County. "To have people who want to play and deposit not be able to is terrible. Depositors are the lifeblood of the poker site, and without them they obviously can't survive."

Alternative payment methods, including automated clearing house (ACH) transfers, and electronic payment services like Neteller and Skrill, are picking up some of the slack. Katz said 60 percent of those whose credit cards were denied succeeded in funding an account through an ACH transfer.

Pineault said he made his initial deposits via a TD Bank debit card, and they sailed through. But a poker player who uses the screen name Palladin on the 2Plus2 poker forum wasn't as lucky.

"I abandoned trying to use credit cards from the get-go," he said. "Major banks in the beginning made it clear that they were not participating and it would be a hit and miss proposition."

He was able to make ACH payments at five of the six sites he tried.

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

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