Legal Gambling in New Jersey

An Overview Of Poker Laws In The State Of New Jersey

New Jersey is the most gambling-friendly of all States, even to the point of fighting for expansion into federally restricted areas in the case of Sports Betting. This state has a long and complex gambling history, and is home to one of the world’s premier Casino resorts in the form of Atlantic City. What really hit the headlines recently are the online gambling legal changes, which have allowed both poker and casino games via the internet for residents. This page gives you a complete guide to the New Jersey Gambling laws, both past and present.

First of all you will find a quick-fire history of gambling in New Jersey, from the lotteries of the 1800’s through to the present day internet laws. After that you will find a list of the different types of gambling, and a legal situation of each one. More detail follows that, with excerpts from the Statutes on gambling and a legal timeline of events lasting more 150 years. At the end of the page you will find a summary of the current situation and a look towards the future.

New Jersey Poker Laws – A Brief History

Like most States, the early legal history of New Jersey is more about banning things than regulating them. This started with a ban on lottery games in the 1840’s, followed by a ban on all forms of gambling in 1897. Gambling continued in the State, with the racetracks thriving and charity gambling occurring out in the open. As the prohibition era took root, the casino games were simply forced underground – and into the hands of the Mob.

Things started to loosen up again in 1939, when pooled (pari-mutuel) horse racing bets were allowed. Bingo and raffles (charity gaming) followed in 1954, and in 1970 there was an overwhelming vote in favor of a State Lottery. Completing this progressive era was a 1976 vote to allow Casinos to be built within Atlantic City. The first casino opened for business just 2 years later, and this is now one of the world’s premier gambling destinations.

The status-quo was maintained for more than 30 years, until recent bills have seen the gambling landscape change once again.

In 2011 the first bill to legalize online gambling was rejected by Governor Chris Christy. 2 years later, political differences were resolved, and a new bill was signed into law. At the end of 2013, online gambling sites offering both casino and poker games went live. The law states that to run these games, the gambling site operators must partner with license holders of one of the 12 big Atlantic City casinos. Already one such partnership, between Party Poker and the Borgata, is the largest New Jersey poker site in 2014.

Another notable chapter in the history of gambling laws in New jersey is that Governor Christy is trying to bring Sports Betting to the casinos and racetracks in this State. His initial attempt has been blocked by the sports leagues themselves, who are keen to avoid potential corruption. This battle is now set to go the US Supreme court.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Gambling: Yes, the casinos of Atlantic City are a destination for casino fans from all over the world. These include huge names including the infamous Borgata and the Taj Mahal.

Online Casinos: Yes, online casino games became legal in 2013, the stipulation here is that the sites must be owned (or partner with) one of the live casino owners and are only allowed for players physically located within the State borders.

Live Poker: Yes, You can enjoy social poker games or play at poker rooms in Atlantic City casinos. Many of the biggest and best tournament tours have stops here including the World Poker Tour.

Online Poker: Yes, New Jersey is one of only 3 States which have legal online poker within their borders. With by far the biggest population of the 3, this State is where all the action is located - with many international brands partnering with the local casino license holders to open rooms. The largest is a partnership between the Borgata and Party Poker.

Sports Betting: Only pari-mutuel betting at the State’s 3 racetracks is currently permitted. There is an ongoing legal dispute between State Governor Chris Christy and the professional sports leagues which has got as far as the US Supreme Court. New Jersey are looking to legalize Sports Betting in the same way Nevada has, and are facing resistance from the leagues on this bid.

Lottery Betting: Yes, New Jersey has a popular lottery which has been in place since 1970.

Bingo Games: Yes, there are provisions for bingo and charity casino gaming under State law.

New Jersey Poker Laws – Timeline Of Key Statutes

The same pattern as in many States was followed in New Jersey for more than 100 years. Gambling was banned at the end of the 1800’s, then exceptions and carve outs were gradually introduced over the next century, starting with horse racing and charity games and moving on from there. The casino acts of the 1970’s and the current bills legalizing online gambling and attempting to legalize sports-betting are what makes this gambling-friendly State stand out from the crowd. Here are the definitions from the core Statutes of New Jersey, where the key things which are illegal are ‘making bets on a game of chance’ and promoting or operating a game.

“All wagers, bets or stakes made to depend upon any race or game, or upon any gaming by lot or chance, or upon any lot, chance, casualty or unknown or contingent event, shall be unlawful. “ (From 2A-40-1 In The NJ Criminal Code)

Here is the part about games of chance:

“a. "Contest of chance" means any contest, game, pool, gaming scheme or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants or some other persons may also be a factor therein. “  (2C-37-1)

Unusually, this definition covers poker explicitly by noting that skill of the players involved does not exempt a game from being considered a game of chance.

Fortunately, the precedent set by State courts over the years is that you are unlikely to be prosecuted for just playing in a gambling game. They tend to go after those organizing illegal gambling games, and the people promoting them.

Here is a timeline of Statutes in New Jersey:

1844: Lotteries banned, these early lotteries were more like what we call raffles – and were often corrupt.

1870: Monmouth Park racetrack opens, being the first formal racetrack in the State (there were informal races before this). They allowed pari-mutuel betting until 1894.

1897: All gambling becomes illegal under NJ law without specific approval by referendum.

1939: Racetrack gambling made legal, based on pari-mutuel (pooled) gambling.

1953: Bingo and raffles become legal for non-profit organizations.

1970: Referendum voted by a huge margin to create the State lottery, which in 1975 became the first lottery which enabled people to pick their own numbers.

1974: Referendum votes against creating a State-wide string of casinos.

1976: New referendum agrees the creation of casinos in Atlantic City, this saw the boom in building which has become a global casino destination today. The first casino (Resorts Atlantic City) opened its doors in 1978.

2011: A bill was passed legalizing online gambling from inside New Jersey’s borders. This was vetoed by Governor Christy on the grounds that it would create unregulated gambling houses at nightclubs and restaurants throughout the State.

2012: Governor Christy signed a bill into law allowing sports betting on professional leagues at Casinos and Racetracks. This was challenged by the professional leagues on the basis that it might lead to corruption, and the lower courts ruled in the league’s favor in 2013. Governor Christy has stated his intention to take the case to the US Supreme Court.

2013: Online gambling becomes legal within the State borders. Casino and poker games are included, and there are already 6 licensed operators, with more planning to follow. New Jersey if the largest of the 3 States that have legal online poker, and the only one to have legal casino gaming online.

New Jersey Poker Laws – Summary + Future Insights

Not only is this State gambling-friendly, they are fighting in the Federal courts for an expansion of their scope to include Sports Betting. The key feature of the New Jersey laws is that you can only gamble in the licensed venues of Atlantic City or the 4 racetracks. Outside of there you are clearly breaking the law by organizing a game for profits, though you’ll find the courts lenient if you are merely a player.

The future looks bright for New Jersey gambling, and with so many online gaming operators there is a real chance this State can take a leading role when it comes to the expansion of internet gambling through the US. The next logical step is the pooling of players between States.

Useful Resources:

Gambling Law US

Wiki History

Authorized Sites

Internet Gambling Regulations

News on Sports Betting Appeal