The state Division of Gaming Enforcement's decision, which came after more than four days of testing the technology involved in online betting and making sure gamblers are within New Jersey, allows the state to join Nevada and Delaware as the only ones offering Internet gambling. It authorized six of the seven casinos that hold Internet gambling permits to immediately offer online gambling throughout New Jersey.
"At this point in time, the casinos are trying to gear up for larger play in the state," division director David Rebuck said in an afternoon conference call with reporters.
The deliveryman who's studying to be a paramedic was among the first New Jerseyans to begin gambling online Tuesday morning, the first full day that unlimited Internet betting was available throughout the state.
"It's just the best thing ever," he said. "It's such a hassle to go to the casino. You have to ride the bus for four hours, and once you get there, you have to wait for a table. Now, I wake up, play for an hour, log off, then play some more.
"The convenience is the best part," he said. "I'll be online paying bills, and maybe play a few hands of poker. They you go make a sandwich, and play a little more."
Hernandez is new to online gambling. Unlike many others, he had never played on offshore gambling websites, some of which were caught in a crackdown by federal authorities several years ago. He began playing on the ucasino.com site, licensed to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, when a five-day test period began last Thursday. From an initial deposit of $130, made by a money transfer from a nearby convenience store, he is just under the break-even point.
He said he feels safe playing in a highly regulated environment.
"There doesn't seem to be anything fishy about this," he said. "Those other sites were a little too sketchy for me. It's great knowing the government is paying such close attention to everything that goes on here. I feel absolutely safe playing this."
That is one of the major goals of New Jersey casino regulators, who say their safeguards for online gambling are the toughest in the nation and possibly the world.
The safeguards include geolocation technology designed to verify that gamblers are physically within New Jersey's borders before they are allowed to play. Some users continued to be locked out by that technology on Tuesday, but David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said the problem is an issue for individual casinos to address and not something that requires a regulatory fix.
Mike Ory, of Hoboken, was still trying with virtually no success Tuesday to access two casinos' sites. And numerous attempts to use a credit card to fund accounts failed for him as well.
"So frustrating," he said. "I've been waiting so long, and now ... ugh."
New Jersey is the third state after Nevada and Delaware to offer online betting, but it is by far the largest legal market in the U.S. thus far.
Six Atlantic City casinos currently offer statewide Internet gambling: the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; the Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino; the Tropicana Casino and Resort; Bally's Atlantic City; and Caesars Atlantic City. The Golden Nugget Atlantic City is fixing some bugs with its system and will join them soon.
In a report issued Tuesday, Moody's Investors Service said Internet gambling will help Atlantic City, particularly the Borgata and the four casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment. The report said online betting will not be an immediate game-changer, generating $250 million to $500 million in the first year.
But Peggy Holloway, a Moody's vice president, said it will help bring new gamblers into the fold.
"People who don't typically visit casinos will have a new way to gamble," she said. "An online presence will also help operators appeal to a younger, more Internet-savvy demographic that might lack the discretionary budget to travel to one of Atlantic City's 12 casinos. Further, the new gaming sites will serve as marketing platforms that operators can use to draw patrons to their brick-and-mortar casinos with special offers."