Less than one year into his second four-year term, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey hopes to achieve the same success with esports as his state has enjoyed with internet gaming and sports betting.
“This governor really has a strong desire to make sure that we are operationally a leader in esports,” said David Rebuck, who has been the director of the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) since 2011.
In late January, after five days of a soft play test phase, Esports Entertainment Group, a London-based company with an office in Hoboken, New Jersey, began accepting wagers on esports with the permission of the DGE.
Rebuck declined to elaborate on New Jersey’s agenda for esports, after citing Murphy’s ambition for the state to become an industry leader during a luncheon keynote address on May 16 at the Seton Hall Law School Gaming Law, Compliance and Integrity Boot Camp in Newark, New Jersey.
“That’s a whole different topic for another day,” Rebuck said as he spoke primarily about sports betting.
After his remarks, Rebuck also told a group of reporters he is confident the New Jersey legislature will renew the state’s internet gaming law next year.
The 2013 law that authorized online casino games and poker includes a sunset provision requiring a legislative review ten years after passage.
“God only knows what that’s going to look like,” Rebuck said. “It’s a long way away.”
Despite a spate of negative articles in the national media about the impact of sports-betting expansion, Rebuck said he is not overly concerned about problem gambling.
“What I know is that some people aren’t going to be able to handle gambling — period,” Rebuck said.
“And we’re doing everything possible to deal with those individuals who struggle with that addiction.”
Rebuck contends many problem gamblers already were placing bets on illegal offshore websites before New Jersey launched legal and regulated games online in 2013.
“They were in a black market without any support,” he said of problem gamblers.
“So, yes, we legalized something that has risk to some, but the vast majority of people are not negatively impacted by this.”
Rebuck continues to cite New Jersey’s regulation of internet gambling and sports betting as an example other states and countries should follow.
“If New Jersey had failed in developing the regulatory model that it developed for sports (betting) and online — if we had failed — we wouldn’t have this discussion right now,” Rebuck said.
“It would be over (for online sports betting and internet gaming in the United States),” Rebuck said. “Nobody’s going to copy a failure.”
A solid argument can be made that the success of New Jersey’s internet gambling industry saved brick and mortar casinos on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
Rebuck did not hesitate when asked if the pandemic or the closure of four casinos in 2014 in Atlantic City was more difficult during his 11-year career as DGE director.
“The closures,” he said. “Horrible. It’s horrible. When you close a casino and the people that lose their jobs — I mean it’s horrible. We’d close them down, and people’s lives were impacted. The pandemic — at least they were furloughed, and you knew they were coming back.”
With the challenge of esports on his radar, it seems unlikely the 69-year-old Rebuck is going to retire before Governor Murphy completes his second term in January 2025.
But Rebuck insists his staff “can handle esports just fine.”
“Before COVID, I was probably more ready to go,” he said.
“And then when COVID hit, you had this sinking feeling that we’re in big trouble. We had to close the casinos — all of them, and you had no idea what was going to happen.
“I didn’t want to leave during COVID because I felt that it would be like a captain jumping ship. I could have left then, but I didn’t. I’m kind of like I want to see us through to the end of COVID.”