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New Jersey's Online Gambling Bill Passed by State Assembly

Online poker once again is on the verge of being approved by the New Jersey legislature.

New Jersey's Internet gambling bill passed through the state assembly Monday by a vote of 48-24-4. State Sen. Ray Lesniak, the bill's leading sponsor, promises that the Senate will do the same Thursday to put the legislation back on the desk of Gov. Chris Christie.

“We're all teed up and ready to get approval in the senate Thursday,” Lesniak said in a phone interview. “It will be voted on and it will pass for sure.”

In January of 2011, the assembly approved a similar bill by a 63-11 vote. That bill ended up being vetoed by Christie. It is unclear what Christie will do after the Senate passes the bill — now known as A2578 — Thursday and puts it back on his desk.

The closer vote this time around was due to less support from Republicans following the governor's veto of the last bill. Lesniak said he didn't believe the decreased support from Republicans is any indication of what the Republican governor will do with the bill.

“It certainly didn't say anything last time when they all supported it and he vetoed it,” Lesniak said. “You can't read it either way in terms of the governor's intentions.”

With news that federal efforts have stalled for the year, New Jersey has become the focus for people looking for a return to the golden age of online poker.

One reason for the excitement is a report that PokerStars, the world's most popular Internet poker site, has interest in purchasing a struggling Atlantic City casino in order to return to the U.S. market. The bill passed by the assembly was amended earlier this month to remove a provision that would have prohibited the licensing of companies like PokerStars that served U.S. customers following enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Lesniak told PokerNews that the move was made with the thought that Atlantic City should welcome investment from the world's largest poker site.

With federal efforts again having gone nowhere, it appears the focus of online poker licensing and regulation will be on the states going forward. The Reid-Kyl proposal suggested for Congress this year would have allowed only for poker while prohibiting other forms of online gambling. Since that bill failed, New Jersey can go ahead with its plan to authorize all casino games currently being offered in Atlantic City casinos to be played online.

“We must position New Jersey's gaming industry to thrive in the 21st Century, and that involves authorizing a legally sound Internet gaming law,” Assemblyman John Burzichelli, who sponsored the bill, said in a press release. “This is another key piece of our effort to boost New Jersey's gaming industry by expanding and modernizing our wagering options. This will rejuvenate our tourist industry while increasing employment, capital investment and much needed urban development.”

Lesniak has indicated that he hopes other states will follow New Jersey in legalizing online poker and allow the Garden State to provide the services to their residents, creating a larger pool of players. Nevada and Delaware are the only states to approve online poker, though they are still working on creating the framework.

“Most everything else has migrated to the Internet and taken advantage of the consumer and revenue options it offers, and New Jersey should be no different,” added Assemblyman Vincent Prieto in the release. “This is a carefully crafted bill designed to ensure Internet gaming on casino games is offered in the right way.”

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