The COVID-19 crisis naturally has created a focus on New Jersey’s gambling issues centered around the Atlantic City casinos and the state’s three racetracks.
But there also is a long history of municipal, small-stakes gambling such as the bingo offered by veterans groups; religious, charitable, educational, and fraternal organizations; civic and service clubs; senior citizen associations and clubs; and volunteer fire companies and first aid and rescue squads.
What do they do at a time when public gatherings are limited to small groups, with a focus on outdoor activities?
The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee last week moved forward a bill that would allow such organizations holding bingo, raffles and similar contests to conduct them remotely.
The Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission would determine the eligibility of such contests under the bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho and Democratic counterpart Vin Gopal.
‘Bingo is still bingo’
“Many non-profits and charities have seen their primary revenue sources severely diminished due to rules and guidelines restricting indoor gatherings during the pandemic,” Oroho said in a statement. “By reopening the revenue flow with remote contests, this measure could be a life preserver to vital organizations that may not otherwise survive the fiscal challenges created by the coronavirus.
“The virus has impacted every aspect of our lives, and we have been forced to find alternatives to the way things have always been done. This is one of those examples,” Oroho added. “Bingo is still bingo if you call the numbers on Zoom or another approved digital solution.”
To pass muster with current laws, the bill states: “A licensee conducting bingo or lotto pursuant to this paragraph shall verify that the physical location of each participant, irrespective of the location of any server or intermediate routing of electronic data, is within a municipality” that has approved an in-person version of the same games.
“In light of these unprecedented times, it is still so important for organizations to be able to fund-raise for their causes,” Gopal said. “This benefits the organizations who have been hurting during this economic and public health crisis. It gives them a chance to raise funds for important causes in spite of not meeting in person.”
Existing law already contemplates additional gambling options:
“The control commission may adopt regulations authorizing licensees to hold events known as: ‘armchair races’ at which wagers are placed on the outcome of previously-filmed horse races and wagerers do not know the results in advance, when the prize awarded consists of merchandise or raffle tickets only, and not cash; and ‘casino nights’ at which players use chips or script purchased from the licensee to wager in games of chance known as blackjack, under/over, beat-the-dealer, chuck-a-luck, craps, roulette, bingo or similar games approved by the commission, when the chips or script are redeemable for merchandise or raffle tickets only, and not for cash.”
A companion bill has been introduced by Democratic Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, who along with Gopal represent the state’s 11th district in Monmouth County.
It’s all for a good cause
“Living in this virtual world is not easy, but this legislation will make coming together for good causes simpler,” Downey said. “While we may not all be in one room together, we can donate and participate in functions through the proper technology and still feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves.”
“It’s important for our government to do whatever we can to help struggling communities and organizations,” said Houghtaling. “Allowing these organizations to run their fundraisers online in a safe and secure way is the least we can do in light of these economic and public health hardships.”
Adding a Republican co-sponsor presumably would seal the deal, and it’s difficult to picture Gov. Phil Murphy vetoing a “baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie” measure aimed at helping old-fashioned civic groups stay afloat in a crisis.
The bill also would discourage “under-the-table” get-togethers which would be more likely to occur without a legal, remote option.
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