A longshot piece of legislation was filed last week in New Jersey that would bring live poker rooms to the horse racetracks outside of Atlantic City.
The legislation, A4365, was introduced July 2 by Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, a Republican.
“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 short three-page bill reads. In other words, poker at the tracks wouldn’t require a referendum.
The bill is another effort in the longstanding attempt to expand retail casino-style gambling outside of Atlantic City. Dancer first introduced legislation to bring poker rooms to the racetracks in 2016. According to the New Jersey Legislature’s website, his poker bills have never made it past the committee stage.
The Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park, which have sportsbooks, recently reopened their doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Atlantic City casinos also reopened last week with limited capacity. For now, poker appears to be a no-go, as the game requires players to sit in very close proximity to each other.
— Tiffany Gambla (@TiffanyGambla) July 3, 2020
Why expand poker beyond Atlantic City?
A4365 is a piece of legislation that would benefit the racetracks on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Assuming the bill became law, the tracks more than likely wouldn’t be opening up any poker tables until social distancing is a distant memory.
However, the massive uptick for online poker in the Garden State could make the game more attractive in a live setting once the pandemic has more or less ended. It is hard to say right now whether another boom for poker is on the horizon once COVID-19 is in the past.
Through May, New Jersey’s three online poker operators based out of Atlantic City generated $16.9 million in revenue, up 86.7% compared to the same months of 2019. That’s impressive growth, but it came while live poker was unavailable and many people were stuck at home.
A4365 doesn’t include online poker for the tracks.
“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 bill’s statement reads. “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’s odds are long, especially considering Atlantic City casinos would not be interested in the new competition from the tracks on the poker front as they try to recover financially from the pandemic. The Casino Association of New Jersey would likely oppose A4365.
A rising tide does lift all boats, and so the more popular poker becomes the better it is for the poker industry as a whole, but that likely won’t be a factor here for A4365.