ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey is allowing adults in the state to click a mouse or swipe a screen for a chance to win money, making it only the third state to offer online gambling.
A five-day trial period of Internet gambling began Thursday night when players invited by casinos to test their systems made real-money bets online.
If all goes well, Internet gambling will be available to gamblers in New Jersey starting Tuesday. The only other states with online gambling are Nevada and Delaware.
It wasn't going so well for Joseph Brennen. The 33-year-old unemployed bartender from Ventnor was excitedly trying to log on to any gambling site that would take him Thursday night. Sitting in the rear of a McDonald's, with the Atlantic City Boardwalk casinos glittering in the distance, he kept getting security messages saying that complex technology designed to ensure that all players are within New Jersey's borders didn't believe he was in New Jersey, and thus were shutting him out.
It was a possible scenario detailed by The Associated Press in a weekend story quoting online gambling officials who said they deliberately moved their "online fences" away from the edge of the state's borders to ensure that players from other states couldn't get online to gamble.
So Brennen got in a car and drove five miles inland and five miles north to a highway rest stop — where he still encountered difficulty getting online.
"Over there, I was being told I wasn't in New Jersey," he said. "Here it's not telling me yes or no."
The seven casinos approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement collectively offered 14 websites where customers can make real-money bets.
The participating casinos are the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; the Tropicana Casino and Resort; Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino; the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort; Bally's Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City, along with the Golden Nugget.
The test period was established to determine whether sophisticated technology designed to ensure that all gamblers are in New Jersey and at least 21 years old works correctly. The test also will evaluate electronic payment technology and the integrity and functionality of the casino games.
Online betting will mark the biggest expansion of gambling in New Jersey since casino gambling began in 1978.
"This is a very exciting time for Atlantic City and for the gaming industry," said Alisa Cooper, a commissioner with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
"With the dawn of Internet gaming, we are on the cusp of perhaps the biggest change — and challenge — since the first casino opened here," Cooper said.
Hours before the test was to begin, a state lawmaker unveiled a proposal to lure foreign online gambling companies to New Jersey. Sen. Raymond Lesniak's bill would entice foreign betting firms to set up shop in the state — even though they could only take bets from overseas gamblers — and be subject to New Jersey's famously tough casino regulation.
The payoff to New Jersey would be a 15 percent tax on their winnings, plus payments into a fund to raise $20 million a year for three years for New Jersey's struggling horse racing industry. Lesniak said the foreign companies want the stamp of approval that strict New Jersey regulation would bring.
PokerStars, the world's largest poker website, was not cleared to participate in the test with its land-based casino partner, Resorts Casino Hotel. PokerStars spokesman Eric Hollreiser said the company is continuing its talks with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.
"However it is now apparent that we will not have approval in place to launch on Nov. 26," Hollreiser said. "We remain committed to working with the division to complete the review process."
Regulators say from 500 to several thousand people could be online at any one time during the test period. Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck said he hopes to push the system and test its capacity.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC