Live poker could be coming to New Jersey racetracks

Last week, a bill was filed in New Jersey that would allow the state’s racetracks to have live poker rooms. The proposed legislation, A4365, was introduced by Republican Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, who has a poor track record when it comes to poker bills.

The three-page document states, “The legislature finds and declares that the card game ‘poker’ is a game of skill and bluff and, therefore, is not a form of gambling that is restricted by the provisions of the New Jersey Constitution.” The language states that a referendum for having live poker at New Jersey racetracks would not be required.

There have been many attempts in New Jersey to introduce land-based casino gaming outside of Atlantic City. This is not the first time that Dancer has tried to bring poker rooms to the Garden State’s racetracks, as he did the same back in 2016. Not only was that attempt unsuccessful, but all of Dancer’s bills dealing with poker have failed to pass the committee state.

Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park, which both have retail sportsbooks, recently reopened after being shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Atlantic City casinos have also started trading again, yet land-based poker rooms are still closed. That is not surprising since the players and the dealer are required sit close to one another around the poker table, which makes it difficult to enforce distancing protocols.

Bill A4365 would be beneficial for the New Jersey racetracks. However, even if it were to pass into law, it could be a while before the tracks are allowed to begin operating poker rooms. Still, if the spike in online gambling activity during the COVID-19 pandemic is any indicator, there could be a strong market for live poker once trading restrictions are lifted.

The three online poker operators in New Jersey had a revenue stream of $16.9 million for the year up to May. That figure was an 86.7% increase for the months up to May in 2019. That growth is significant, but it came when land-based poker was not available due to the pandemic.

Bill A4365 does not have any language allowing for online poker at the racetracks. It reads, “The Division of Gaming Enforcement will have jurisdiction over poker at racetracks and will promulgate rules and regulations establishing the rules of the game, providing for the licensing of racetrack permit holders to conduct poker, and establishing standards for the size and arrangement of poker rooms. The division will also approve the amount that a permit holder may retain as compensation from the conduct of poker. The New Jersey Racing Commission will have no jurisdiction over poker at racetracks. Poker players must be at least 21 years of age.”

The bill is a long shot since the casinos in Atlantic City do not want more competition for the state’s poker players. The casinos are now open, in a limited capacity, but are still trying to recover from significant losses with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting their doors for over three months. Thus, it is safe to say the Casino Association of New Jersey would be opposed to legalizing poker at racetracks.

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