Hurry Up and Wait: What the New Jersey Online Gambling Bill’s Passage Really Means

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill authorizing online gambling in New Jersey. I’ve seen tweets from friends saying things like, “Great! Christie legalizes online poker in New Jersey.” Well, that’s not exactly what happened. While I’d prefer not to throw some cold water on the party, I’m afraid I have to.

What was signed into law is a bill authorizing the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to authorize licensees to run games online. The NJCCC will authorize which games can be run online. While it is virtually certain that poker will be allowed online, the NJCCC still has to vote for it.

Further, licensees of the Commission will need to put together proposals for running the games online. They’ll need to demonstrate that they have the systems in place so that everything works smoothly; that the games are fair; that appropriate measures are in place to prevent cheating and underage gambling; etc. Nevada legalized intrastate online poker nearly a year ago; the first real money virtual poker in Nevada has yet to take place. I suspect it will take at least twelve months in Nevada (fifteen is my guess). It may take slightly less time in New Jersey (companies with Nevada licenses will have more of the processes in place), but it’s a good bet that the first game of New Jersey virtual poker will occur in 2014, not 2013.

I’ve heard some say that New Jersey will be able to partner with sites that are in Europe, so that residents of the Garden State will be able to play poker against Europeans. That’s not going to happen–at least, for now. The US Constitution gives the federal government the sole right to make treaties with foreign countries. That’s in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3:

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes….

New Jersey can’t make a treaty with, say, Italy. That’s not happening.

It’s even debatable whether interstate poker would be legal. Must their be legislation before, say, Nevada and New Jersey can enter an interstate compact for online gambling? Congress has specifically allowed multi-state lottery compacts (such as Powerball). Must Congress specifically authorize the same kinds of compacts for online poker? It is clear that if Congress authorized such compacts they would be legal; without such legislation, it becomes a question of law.

I don’t know the answer to this question. I’ve heard both yes and no from people well versed in this area of law. It’s the kind of case that could be fought in the courts for years. Interestingly, the states where all gambling is required to be run by lottery commissions (such as West Virginia) could make online poker compacts with other such states; those have a higher likelihood of being legal.

Today’s signing of online gambling legislation is welcome news for American online poker players. It is, however, just one step among many that must be made before legal online gambling is available for all Americans (or even residents of New Jersey).

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