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New Jersey Senate Bills Aim To Protect At-Risk Casino Gamblers

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As Sam A. Antar and his attorney, Matthew Litt, prepare to file an explanation next month in their appeal of a New Jersey judge’s decision to dismiss the recovering gambling addict’s civil lawsuit against BetMGM and some of its associated properties, a Garden State legislator has filed a pair of bills designed to protect at-risk bettors at brick-and-mortar casinos.

On April 8, Senator John McKeon, an Essex County Democrat, formally introduced S3062 and S3063. The former bill would make it illegal for casinos “to conduct a non-wagering casino game that provides a reward for immediate or continued participation or that serves to solicit future participation in wagering activities.”

Herein, a “non-wagering casino game” is defined as one “which offers participants an experience equivalent to, or with similar odds of winning as, a game that ordinarily requires a casino license to be conducted, except that the game does not require any initial monetary investment on behalf of the participants to play.”

“Apps run by casinos that replicate the experience of playing real casino games take advantage of children to get them hooked at a young age so they can make monetary bets in the future,” McKeon told NJ Biz. “We must protect our kids from these predatory practices and hold casinos accountable to prevent the next generation from falling victim to the devastating consequences of compulsive gambling.”

As for S3063, that bill would hold casinos civilly liable “for reckless indifference or intentional misconduct toward persons self-excluded from gaming activities.” For various reasons, some related to his case, Antar has never put himself on a self-exclusion list in New Jersey. But despite being banned from MGM properties and serving prison time for illegally using clients’ funds to fuel his gambling addiction, BetMGM recommenced sending him online casino bonus offers shortly after his incarceration ended.

Antar recently voiced his support for 3063 in a letter to McKeon, writing, “As it stands, casinos are not obligated to intervene and stop individuals with gambling addiction from further engaging in harmful behavior. This lack of accountability can have devastating consequences for those struggling with gambling disorders. … I believe that Senate Bill 3063 is a crucial step in the right direction.”

‘Harmless enough’ to pass?

While Litt, who launched a legislative-focused think tank shortly after the Jan. 31 dismissal of Antar’s case, calls 3063 “a good start,” but doesn’t view it as a perfect solution.

“You have to generally be in a pretty bad spot to self-exclude, so I’d like to see legislation that prevents people from getting near that point,” he told US Bets. “In broad terms, it would be a limitation on incentives and communications that are calculated to get people to bet more frequently than they should.”

On the upside, New Jersey’s casino industry wields a ton of political influence, which means the legislation’s innocuousness could be an asset.

“I suspect it will pass,” predicted Litt. “It seems harmless enough to where legislators who feel strongly about this can put that stake in the ground to get it started, while legislators who aren’t serious about restrictions can say, ‘Well, hey, I voted to make it safer.’”

‘A very fair step’

McKeon would love to eventually pursue legislation that holds online casinos to the same standards he’s seeking to apply to their brick-and-mortar brethren, but told US Bets that “it’s a little too difficult at this point.”

Instead, he said he opted “to crawl before I walk in opening it in a way that shouldn’t be reasonably objectionable to anyone.”

“I think they should be held civilly accountable,” he said of the state’s casinos. “Gaming is the only industry in the country that has blanket immunity. Even the gun manufacturers, who have pretty significant immunity, there’s a way through public nuisance laws to hold them accountable.

“This was, to me, a very fair step. For the most part, the stakeholders have not raised any real objections to it. They all recognize, especially with the proliferation of online gaming, if you have 1,000 people who gamble, and one to five percent have a problem, that’s 50 people. But when it comes to a million people gambling, now you’ve got 50,000, and that’s a big problem.”

Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

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