Could online gaming cafes be coming to New Jersey race tracks?

The Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

The Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

New Jersey’s General Assembly has approved a bill that would authorize horse racing tracks to offer casino-like gaming on their grounds in the form of internet gambling cafes.

The bill, A 4255, passed through the Assembly on Thursday with a 60-12-1 vote.

Some in the assembly were bullish on the bill, but others have real reservations.

Since online gambling is already legal in New Jersey, nothing has stopped track visitors from gambling online on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. This bill allows the tracks to operate legal internet gambling cafes on their premises.

The intent is to give track owners the ability to lure more visitors to the track since they will be able to gamble online in between races.

But in New Jersey, casino gaming is only legal in Atlantic City and all online gambling must go through a casino. In fact, just over a year ago, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly voted against a proposal to expand casino gambling to North Jersey. Nearly 80 percent of people voted no, helping Atlantic City retain its monopoly on gaming.

The new bill requires race tracks to work out a deal with a casino located in Atlantic City or an online affiliate of those casinos in order to offer online gambling services.

Critics fear race tracks in New Jersey will turn into “racinos” — a track with casino-like games — that will start installing computers, essentially cloning slot machines.

That’s not the view of Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of the Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, it’s a win-win.

“The casinos should realize that absolutely nothing will happen unless they agree to allow it through an agreement with a track,” he said.“Nobody is forcing anything on them. This is really a win-win for the racing industry and the casino industry.”

Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo represents New Jersey’s second congressional district, which includes Atlantic City. He was one of the 12 voters who voted against the bill and he sees the issue differently than most of his colleagues. He questions the bill’s legality.

“It specifically states in constitution of New Jersey that gaming is supposed to be done in Atlantic City and now they’re trying to expand it,” Mazzeo said. “They’re trying to do an end-around and go against not only the will of the people, but the actual law.”

The bill does not specify what these proposed internet cafes will look like. For Democratic Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, and the 59 others who voted in favor of the bill, it goes back to one simple sentiment: Internet gambling cafes would attract more people and “the tracks really need the additional business.”

Caputo, who has experience as a former casino executive is co-sponsoring the bill

“I don’t get it, really,” he said. “I see it as a no brainer. The casinos and the tracks should be working together instead of fighting. They’re all fighting over Jersey dollars.”

Regardless of what the cafes will look like, Mazzeo stands firm in opposition.

“The problem is that if the Monmouth Racetrack, or say the Meadowlands, if they facilitate that internet cafe, I think that you’re expanding gaming outside of Atlantic City, which to me is illegal,” Mazzeo said.

In Delaware where gambling is also legal, the state’s three race tracks are also home to those casinos.

All these arguments on the New Jersey proposal become moot if the Atlantic City casinos don’t want to partner with the racetracks. Supporters of the bill are struggling to understand why some casinos wouldn’t want to do so.

While casinos and race tracks across the Garden State have seen their ups and downs, the online gambling industry is thriving.

Revenues from online gambling in New Jersey are set to reach $250 million this year. That’s the largest number of all three states that offer internet gambling.

The bill next heads to the state Senate.

 

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