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Union urges Christie to sign Internet betting bill

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The president of Atlantic City's largest casino workers' union called on Gov. Chris Christie to sign an Internet gambling bill, saying online betting revenue could make the difference between two or more casinos surviving or having to close.

Bob McDevitt, head of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, said Thursday he supports the bill as a way to preserve the jobs of thousands of casino workers.

"In the past several years, Atlantic City has suffered as the result of increased competition from neighboring states," he said. "Gaming revenues have declined by 40 percent, causing reduced tax revenue for programs that support New Jersey's seniors, fewer jobs and reduced wages for casino workers as the casinos need fewer employees to staff the facilities. The Internet gaming bill gives New Jersey the opportunity to change that."

McDevitt cited studies projecting that Internet gambling in New Jersey could produce $650 million to $850 million in revenue in its first year, and $1.5 billion annually within a few years.

"We believe that this increased revenue could make the difference between two or more casinos staying open or closing," he said. "Keeping those casinos open means saving more than 3,000 jobs. This bill will allow Atlantic City to compete more effectively, increase tax revenues and save thousands of jobs."

The New Jersey legislature passed an Internet betting bill in December; Christie has about a week left to act on it.

He vetoed a similar bill in March 2011, citing concerns about its constitutionality and the proliferation of back-room Internet betting parlors. The governor has given no indication whether changes made to the most recent bill will be enough to win his support.

The bill would legalize the online playing, for money, of any game currently offered at the 12 Atlantic City casinos, including poker. In order to comply with a requirement of the state Constitution that casino gambling be conducted only in Atlantic City, all computers, servers, monitoring rooms and hubs used to conduct the online gambling must be located either in a restricted area on the premises of a casino, or in a secure facility inaccessible to the public off the grounds of a casino but within the city limits of Atlantic City.

The location issue was one that Christie cited when he vetoed the first Internet gambling bill in 2011. But supporters of the bill have since solicited testimony from top legal scholars that having the computer and other equipment located in Atlantic City would be enough to comply with the state Constitution.

The bill would tax Internet gambling revenues at 10 percent, up from the 8 percent that the casinos pay for money won on their premises.

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

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