Two of most populous — and cash-strapped — states in the U.S. continue to discuss the benefits of explicitly legalizing online poker in an intrastate system, with new and amended bills proposed earlier this month.However, significant hurdles remain in both California and New Jersey before state-approved online poker sites get up and running.In New Jersey, state legislators are attempting to put a referendum on November’s ballots that would put the state in position to offer online poker and sports betting, if a federal law on the latter is overturned. State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) has been leading the charge, which has been endorsed by iMEGA, a gaming association with online poker operators among its members.Lesniak’s legislation was approved 3-1 in a committee vote on June 3, leading some proponents to believe that online poker was on the way in the Garden State. But hopes for an easy passage quickly dimmed after the Casino Association of New Jersey, representing Atlantic City’s 11 casinos, came out strongly against the legislation last week, highlighting concerns that an open online system could hurt the tourism industry.“As the industry seeks to work with government to revitalize the economic engine that the Atlantic City casinos bring to the state of New Jersey, the last thing that the state needs at this time is to undermine the destination resort model by expanding gambling to other parts of the state,” CANJ president Joe Corbo wrote in a public letter.Corbo also tried to raise doubts about the legitimacy of iMEGA in its efforts to support the proposal.“New Jersey, which has set the gold standard for its gambling laws, should not now have its gambling laws driven by a group like iMEGA that is made up of offshore Internet gambling sites that are not permitted to accept wagers in the United States and are thumbing their nose at the United States Department of Justice," said Corbo.Despite the casinos’ opposition, state legislators are still mulling the possibility of approving the legislation.State Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) said the CANJ has “a corporate responsibility to do what’s best for their company. That’s a different responsibility to what we have, to do what’s best for the state and its interests…I don’t begrudge them that. Sometimes those coincide and sometimes they don’t.”Whelan still supports the measures, despite the recently announced casino opposition.New Jersey’s state government is expected to continue discussing the issue in depth over the next several weeks.California has also been inching closer to an intrastate online poker system, although its proposed system has yet to gain much support amongst the current online poker community. That’s probably because the legislation on the table would restrict online poker to just three California operators, while making it illegal for California residents to play on an unapproved site.“The bill would provide that it would be unlawful for any person to play any gambling game provided over the Internet that is not authorized by the state pursuant to this bill. By creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program,” a summary of the bill read.The legislation, which was introduced by state senator Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), is likely to earn the support of a gaming coalition that consists of Commerce Casino, Hollywood Park Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Bicycle Casino and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.The coalition, which said it would review the legislation, released the following statement: “California is one step closer…to allowing the establishment of legal intrasite online poker web sites that will offer consumer protections and provide desperately needed revenue for the state.”However, support for online poker is hardly unanimous in the Golden State. The California Tribal Business Alliance, a group of casinos and card rooms, has voiced concern that such a bill would hurt their land-based properties.California faces nearly a $19 billion budget deficit, while New Jersey struggles with its own $11 billion budget deficit. The financial situations for the two states are amongst the most dire in the country.Card Player will continue to bring you all the latest news and developments regarding the ongoing debate concerning online poker and government regulation.
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