TRENTON – It has now been nearly 10 years since New Jersey approved internet gambling – and the way the law was written, the Legislature must renew it to keep it from disappearing less than a year from now.

There is no chance of that happening. Internet-based casino games and online sports wagering have combined to account for nearly 45% of gaming revenue so far this year in New Jersey – around $1.9 billion of the $4.3 billion in revenues reported through October.

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Barbara DMarco, a lobbyist for Penn Gaming and Freehold Raceway who is also on the board of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, said online betting kept the casinos and racetracks afloat when the COVID pandemic struck.

“If it weren’t for internet gaming and sports wagering, the Atlantic City that is existing today would not exist, and the racetracks would not, either,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco said online gambling is also important for a regional economy trying to build on gaming and hospitality into a more high-tech direction.

The infrastructure for internet gaming and sports betting has to be located within Atlantic City, which she said has resulted in tens of millions of spending on data centers and even jobs for dealers hosting online table games from studios.

Committees in both the Senate and Assembly have given initial approvals to a bill (S3075/A2190) extending internet gaming by another decade, until 2033. It still requires at least four more votes before it could reach Gov. Phil Murphy.

Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, said he doesn’t know why it should have an expiration at all, though does support it and is among its sponsors.

“Internet gaming is so important to the city of Atlantic City, the people of the city, the workers in the city. These internet companies have to have a relationship with the brick-and-mortar facilities in the city, and so there’s really no scenario where internet gaming can ever go away,” Polistina said.

In 2014, internet gambling revenue in its first full year was $123 million, yielding $18 million in tax revenue. Last year, revenue exceeded $2 billion and taxes topped $310 million.

Felecia Grondin, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said clearly more people are gambling online – and with that comes social costs, such as more opportunities for people to develop gambling problems.

“Gambling is easily accessible and is everywhere,” Grondin said. “One can lose tens of thousands of dollars within minutes simply by picking up a cell phone.”

Since the start of online gambling, calls to the 1-800-GAMBLER helpline are up 161%, Grondin said. But the council’s funding hasn’t increased since 2016.

“We have literally six people on staff to cover the entire state,” Grondin said. “We are competing with advertising that is so excessive and so aggressive that it’s very difficult to compete with that advertising. And people are in need of help.”

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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