When it comes to gambling, New Jersey is one of the most proactive states in the nation. For the past 35 years, Atlantic City – known by some grinders as
Mini Vegas – has been a haven for East Coast gamblers. But during the past decade or so, the economic downturn and the construction of new casinos near Philadelphia have taken its toll on the once fabled city. Revenues are down, the long-standing Atlantic Club Casino closed its doors , and Revel is in the market for a buyer .
New Jersey’s gambling industry recently introduced a new revenue stream: regulated online poker. Can it save the state’s fledgling casino industry, or will it underwhelm much like AC has since the mid-2000s?
Can Players from New Jersey Play Real-Money Online Poker?
Yes, yes and yes. New Jersey was the third state to roll out a regulated iGaming industry, and only the second to legalize online casinos in addition to poker. To date, the state boasts approximately a half-dozen New Jersey poker sites, with more coming shortly. Some of the most popular ones include:
The PartyPoker NJ network – which is comprised of BorgataPoker.com and NJ.PartyPoker.com –resides as the most heavily traversed network in the state.
New Jersey law requires that players be physically located in NJ, with their location tracked via geo-location technology. Also of note, players must be able to verify their identity before wagering real-money online. This means they’ll have to provide their SSN and other sensitive information in accordance with the stringent verification process employed by the state’s regulatory committee – the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement . And for those who don’t live in the United States, a wealth of real-money online poker sites are just a few clicks away.
Is Online Poker Legal in New Jersey?
Let it be known that playing online poker on a regulated site is 100 percent legal in the state of New Jersey. But when it comes to unregulated sites and gambling in general the language of the law is a bit ambiguous.
When analyzing a state’s gambling stance, it’s always best to first examine how the state defines
gambling. According to section 2C:37-1(b):
’Gambling’ means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the actor’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.
New Jersey’s gambling statutes define a
“Contest of Chance using the material degree test, which is typically interpreted to mean that if chance plays any significant role in the outcome, even if it’s not the dominant role, than the game can be classified as one of chance. While poker is undoubtedly a game that favors the skillful, the ultimate fate of a player can be decided exclusively by chance. Hence, according to New Jersey law, poker is gambling.
Acting as a player in an unregulated poker game is considered an affirmative defense. In other words, if players caught in a gambling ring can prove they had nothing to do with the operation itself, it’s unlikely they would face criminal charges. Or at least that’s our non-professional interpretation of NJ’s cryptic gambling statures.
The definition of
Player also implies that social gambling, in which the house and/or dealers generate no profit, is exempt from the law ( Section 2C:37-1(b) ):
A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants therein does not thereby render material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of such if he performs, without fee or remuneration, acts directly toward the arrangement of facilitation of the game, such as inviting person to play, permitting the use of premises or supplying cards or other equipment used therein.
Sadly, even the mere act of telling friends or dealing a few hands blurs the line between player and operator. And whereas players get off easy, operators are subject to severe penalties, with five-figure fines and upwards of five years behind bars for the most egregious offenses. Compounding matters further, anyone who contributes towards to the operation of the establishment via
paraphernalia can get slapped with a citation, at minimum.
- January 2010: State Senator Raymond Lesniak introduces legislation that would legalize online gambling. This is the first attempt at iGaming regulation in the state
- November 22, 2010: Lesniak’s bill is passed in the Senate by an overwhelming 29 – 5 margin . However, a last minute amendment would delay the Assembly vote until early 2011.
- January 2011: S-490 receives bipartisan report, passing in the Assembly 63 – 11 and the Senate 34 – 2.
- March 2011: Governor Christie vetoes the bill, citing legal complications that could lead to the expansion of commercial gambling outside of Atlantic City . By law, commercial casinos must operate from within AC.
- February 2012: In the wake of Black Friday, S1565 and its equivalent bill in the Assembly (A2578) are introduced. Once again, the bill received support in both houses only to be conditionally vetoed by Christie. Among Christie’s concerns were the proposed 10 percent tax rate, the amount of funds allocated towards problem gamblers, and the indefinite nature of licensure.
- February 26, 2013: The amended A2578 is signed into law by Governor Christie. New Jersey becomes the third state to legalize online gambling.
- November 26, 2013: Nine months to the day after A2578 bill was passed, New Jersey launches its first wave of regulated online gaming sites.
New Jersey Gambling History
The Garden State’s gambling history dates back to the pre-Revolutionary War days when informal lotteries were held on a somewhat regular basis. Little known fact – the proceeds from these lotteries would ultimately help fund the state’s military in their fight for independence.
Horseracing would become popularized by the mid-19th century, resulting in the establishment of Freehold Raceway and Monmouth Park Racetrack. However, in 1894 all forms of gambling would be prohibited by law. But that didn’t stop the state’s committed gamblers from taking to the underground. The presence of illegal horseracing would become so widespread that by 1939, government was all but forced to overrule its earlier ruling by re-legalizing pari-mutuel wagering.
Bingo would be legalized in 1953, followed by a statewide lottery in 1970, scratch off tickets in 1975 and eventually the multi-jurisdiction Mega Millions and Powerball.
1976 marked a historic victory for pro-gambling advocates located in the Garden State, as voters passed a referendum effectively legalizing casino style gambling – in so long as it was restricted to the resort town of Atlantic City.
Ultimately this restriction would prove a blessing and a curse. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s the gambler’s haven boomed. But once slot junkets and poker grinders from the NYC and Connecticut areas were provided with closer alternatives, state casino revenues began to sharply decline – a trend that has continued to this very day.
New Jersey is also one of the few states to have legalized sports betting. However, due to a U.S. District Judge ruling, sports betting remains illegal .
Regulated Gambling Options in New Jersey
Visitors to the state hungry to satiate their gambling appetite will have their choice from among the state’s four racetracks, 11 Atlantic City-based casinos, and seven lottery variants. Casino nights and other forms of charitable gaming litter the state, with organizations such as churches, fraternities and shore communities hosting gambling activities on a frequent basis.
The only form of gambling not permitted by the Garden State is tribal casinos.
Other Recent Headlines
New Jersey’s online poker sites have struggled to retain player interest. After peaking at an average of over 600 concurrent cash-game players in January 2014, volume had slipped to less than 350 by early-June. It is believed that sub-standard software, payment processing issues, high rakes and unrewarding player loyalty programs are to blame.
The Future of Regulated Online Poker in New Jersey
Unless the Federal government bans online gambling (which seems unlikely), it looks like legal Internet poker is here to stay. That being said, if New Jersey’s poker sites don’t find a way to lower their attrition rates, it will set a poor precedent for regulated iGaming – the repercussions of which could be widespread.
To illustrate: Of the 10 or so states seriously considering legalizing online poker, most are looking to the Garden State’s performance as an indicator of their own prospective success in the market. Should NJ fail to impress, states on the proverbial iGaming fence may look for alternative revenue streams.
New Jersey will likely enter into an interstate compact with either Nevada or Delaware (or both) at some point in the future, although no plans have been set.