The long strange trip of NJ Bill S490 to legalize intrastate gambling ended yesterday with the stroke of Governor Chris Christie’s pen. Considering the bill passed the New Jersey Senate and House with mass bi-partisan support, the veto raises more questions than Christie’s veto statement can answer.
In Christie’s statement, he talks up the importance of the gaming sector to New Jersey’s economy but he leaves us few details other than, he disagrees that the legalization of internet gambling would continue the revitalization of the Atlantic City tourism industry and it would contravene the state constitution.
While the explanation is a little surprising, the veto shouldn’t come as much of a shock. We are a little suspicious of Christie choosing to rebuild tourism rather than take the tax revenues and thousands of jobs the bill passage would have provided.
The constitutional issue should have been raised last month when he signed the bill allowing exchange wagering in the state.
Perhaps it’s because the opponent with the most lobby money was Harrah’s Entertainment who felt that any state Internet gambling regulation would hurt their chances at federal regulation. Why take a piece of the pie when you can take the whole pie?
It’s no secret that Governor Christie has presidential aspirations, with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum forming exploratory committees and Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin hocking as many books as they can before forming their own. It has to have Christie itching to throw his hat in the ring.
Even though he’s a big Tea Party favorite, as we’ve seen recently, the Tea Party isn’t as cool with personal freedoms as they led the electorate to believe. Then there is always the specter of the religious right in America and more importantly in the Republican Party. If Christie wants to be president, he needs to appease the Republican’s Bible toting masters. Being the first politician to regulate online gambling in the US won’t win him many friends in the Bible belt.
Chief supporter of Bill S490, Ray Lesniak promises to keep bring new legislation to the Governor but until Christie’s presidential aspirations or Harrah’s Entertainment’s national regulatory dreams come to fruition, New Jersey gamblers, job seekers and state coffers will be left in the cold.
New Jersey’s failed attempt will do little to stop the state-by-state march as they push towards a Canadian model of Internet gambling regulation.
Governor Christie may have put his career ahead of his state but other governors won’t deny their state the revenue or the jobs that regulation could bring.
We will see a state successfully regulate online gambling in 2011. With Iowa, Florida and California all more than willing to do what New Jersey couldn’t, it’s likely we won’t be waiting too much longer. Once the first state regulates, any pipedreams of federal regulation are toast.