N.J. poker bill signed, Nevada opens up

March 20, 2013, Chris  

Within days of my last article, which discussed the conditional veto New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave the online gaming bill, Sen. Ray Lesniak went to work with his staff and revised the bill to meet the governor’s requirements. Shortly after being resubmitted to Christie for approval, the governor approved the changes and signed the bill into law. It will probably be the end of this year before anyone will be able to play online because operators will have to be approved and the software will have to be vetted and approved by the gaming commission.

A new development is taking place with the PokerStars’ purchase of the Atlantic Club Casino. The American Gaming Association, the largest lobbying group representing casinos in the country, had filed a brief with the N.J. Gaming Commission to block the sale. The AGA asserts PokerStars is a business built on deceitful actions, therefore it shouldn’t be allowed to bypass the U.S. legal process by being allowed to buy a casino property, when it has been banned from doing business in the U.S. online market. The commission has yet to rule on the brief. For more on this, please see Jo Kim’s column.

NEVADA: The Senate amended its online gaming bill to introduce two major sections to the law. The first revision allows for Nevada to enter into interstate online agreements to allow gaming commerce to take place as long as the other states are legally allowed to have online gaming. The second is the introduction of a five-year ban on operators who have been deemed as “bad actors” in the past. This would include any online gaming company who had been fined or banned by any governmental agency. This would include PokerStars and Full Tilt. It will be interesting to see if there will be any exceptions to this ruling when the operators are up and running in the state.

The two latest online companies to be cleared as operators in Nevada are Treasure Island and 888 Holdings. The Nevada Gaming Commission was scheduled to approve them by press time. The online software for the Treasure Island site will be built by 888 Holdings.

MASSACHUSETTS: After having a bill introduced to the Legislature to legalize online gaming more than a year ago, only to have it fizzle out, two more bills are being introduced to revive the effort. The first of these bills, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, sets out to make it legal for the state to have online lottery ticket sales and to partner with other states that have legalized online lotteries. The second bill, by Sen. Bruce Tarr, would allow the state’s gaming commission to grant licenses for Internet gaming. These bills seem to have some steam behind them, with some of the key leaders in the state recognizing Internet revenue could be a big boost to the state’s economy.

ILLINOIS: After having Internet gaming discussions shut down last year, there has been renewed interest in the concept. In his recent state budget address, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said $400 million would be cut from education this year. He also said he’d approve Internet gaming, given it has certain provisions for the citizens of the state that included strict ethical standards, wording to make sure of no loopholes for organized crime involvement, a ban on campaign contributions from casino operators, and a dedicated amount of money to go toward education in the state. A bill was introduced to the Legislature in early March that addresses each of these provisions and was approved by the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-4 margin. It has moved on for approval by the Legislature and the governor.

WASHINGTON: In 2006, Washington made it a felony for anyone to participate in online gambling, with a conviction carrying a punishment of five years in prison and a $10K fine. Last month, State Rep. Paul Harris introduced a bill that would reduce the crime to a Class C Civil offense. But some of the other lawmakers in the state did not like this bill and have tabled it until next year’s session. So, until then, it remains a felony to play online.

FERGUSON SETTLES: In late February, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson announced he had reached a tentative agreement with the DOJ in the matter of the Full Tilt Poker civil suit accusing him, Howard Lederer and Ray Bitar of wrongdoing in the Black Friday online gaming debacle. The settlement includes the surrender of a Citibank account, which includes an unknown amount, $2.35 million in cash to be surrendered within 30 days, and a ban on being allowed to work for any online gaming company in the United States until it’s “legal.” Ferguson also renounced any and all future legal actions against Full Tilt as well as announced his forgiveness of $14 million that was owed to him by the company.

BITAR GRANTED CONTINUANCE: Ray Bitar’s attorney filed for a continuance in early March because of a decline in Bitar’s health. The severity of his health issues wasn’t disclosed, but the continuance was granted and the proceedings will continue April 2. Bitar is the primary person in the DOJ’s Full Tilt lawsuit. He faces criminal and civil charges and could be sentenced to life in prison, with fines of $40 million if convicted.

— Email Joel Gatlin at editor@anteupmagazine.com.