New Jersey governor vetoes online gambling bill

The odds in favor of online gambling may have slimmed slightly last Thursday when Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a bill that would have legalized the practice.

The bill, which sought to allow residents to gamble through the websites of Atlantic City casino companies, would have made New Jersey the first state in the U.S. to allow online gambling.

Christie vetoed the bill due to concerns about compliance with state law, which allows gambling only in Atlantic City.

State legislatures in Iowa, California and Florida are considering similar bills. Proponents have suggested the additional revenues generated through online gambling could help some states close their deficits.

But the New Jersey bill would have given most of the money generated to the state’s horse racing industry, another reason Christie vetoed the bill.

It is far too early to tell how much state revenue would actually be generated, said Lia Nower, an associate professor at the School of Social Work and the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University.

Since online gambling is illegal, there is no way to tell how many people would gamble online if it were legal, Nower said in an e-mail.

It is more likely that online gambling would simply reallocate existing gambling money than create any new revenue, said Robert Yahr, an associate professor of accounting. But, Yahr said, online gambling could work in very rural areas where casinos, riverboats and other locations with legal gambling are not nearby.

Yahr said Native American casinos, popular in the Midwest, likely would not be affected.

“If people want to go to (Native American casinos), they’re going to go,” Yahr said. “It’s not going to make any difference.”

A recent poll said 67 percent of New Jersey residents were opposed to online gambling. The opposition is not surprising, Yahr said, because there is a general perception that those who already spend too much on gambling would spend more if they could gamble online.

“Maybe the other 33 percent go to Las Vegas regularly,” he joked.

Yahr said he, like many people, does not gamble unless the lottery gets into nine figures, and even then he limits himself to a dollar or two.

“The most I’ve ever won is five bucks,” he said.

The opposition is also likely because of cultural values in general, said Shubha Ghosh, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s for the same reason that it’s been illegal for a long time,” Ghosh said.

Nower said the passive, solitary nature of other types of gambling like slot machines can have adverse effects, especially on people of lower socio-economic status.

“Allowing people to gamble on a computer in the isolation of their homes could also affect these populations more than others,” Nower said.

Any hope that legalizing online gambling could somehow solve massive state deficits is a long shot, said Yahr, who is an Illinois native.

“I don’t think it’s going to help Wisconsin, which has a nice deficit,” Yahr said. “In Chicago, in Illinois, we’ve got beautiful deficits. I think everyone would have to be gambling for about five hours a week to even come close to providing significant money.”