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NJ clears way for portable gambling devices in AC

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- New Jersey has cleared the way for casino patrons to gamble on their iPads, smartphones and other mobile devices.

But amid uncertainty about whether Internet gambling will ultimately be approved or banned, the Atlantic City casinos seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach before actually offering hand-held gambling.

The state Gaming Enforcement Division issued temporary regulations governing gambling on hand-held devices that took effect on Monday. The state passed a law earlier this year permitting the use of mobile gambling devices.

"These regulations are another example of the cooperation of all our partners and use of our own imaginations to move past the prescribed technology," said David Rebuck, the division's director. "Most importantly in this process was the development of regulations that provided safeguards to prevent underage gambling, and to continually ensure the integrity and security of mobile gaming in New Jersey."

Lisa Spengler, a spokeswoman for the division, said no casino has yet applied to begin using such devices.

That may be because it would entail significant costs for casinos that might prove to be a waste if Internet gambling is approved, either within New Jersey or nationwide. Several years ago, while Atlantic City was pondering changing its casino smoking laws, several casinos spent millions erecting enclosed smoking lounges that ultimately were not needed when a proposed smoking ban on the casino floor was scrapped.

"Think of putting a bubble over each casino: this would be Internet gambling under that bubble," said Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort and head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry's trade group. "It costs money to build that bubble. If Internet gambling happens, that bursts the bubble I just spent all that money to build."

New Jersey has been moving to adopt an in-state Internet gambling law, but Gov. Chris Christie has expressed concerns about its constitutionality. He vetoed a first attempt at Internet gambling, citing among other things the possibility of unlicensed Internet gambling cafes popping up.

Despite the uncertainty over online betting, Rodio said the Tropicana is studying what it would cost to get hand-held gambling up and running.

The devices would have to be used on casino property. Technology exists that can render them inoperable beyond certain geographic bounds. The only parts of casino property where they'd be off-limits are parking lots and garages.

The law permits the use of iPads, smartphones and other wireless devices, as well as hand-held devices issued by the casinos.

The move to allow hand-held gambling devices is one of several expansions of gambling that New Jersey plans for Atlantic City, which is locked in fierce competition with casinos in neighboring states. In addition to its uncertain progress toward Internet gambling, New Jersey also plans to offer sports betting, perhaps as soon as December. The state is being sued by the major professional sports leagues over its plans for sports betting, which is currently prohibited by a 1992 federal law.

Casinos can offer electronic versions of games of chance to be played on mobile devices within the casino and adjoining hotel, as well as any outdoor swimming pool area or outdoor recreational area. The player has to first establish an account with the casino, and the bet must be placed, and any winnings paid out, within the casino.

The rules require companies that provide software that will be used for mobile gambling to obtain a casino service industry license. The devices must have the capability to screen out players who are under the age of 21, who are banned from casinos by the state or by having placed themselves on a self-exclusion list, and it can establish daily limits on a customer's portable gambling.

Wireless communications between the device and the computer server must be encrypted using technology approved by the state.

Casinos would have to appoint a mobile gambling manager responsible for overseeing the operation and integrity of the system, and tasked with reporting any suspicious behavior to authorities.

Winnings from the mobile games could be used to pay for additional play, can be cashed out at a casino cage, or wired to a pre-approved bank account.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC