ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The president of an Atlantic City casino being bought by the world's largest online poker company urged Gov. Chris Christie to sign a bill legalizing Internet gambling in New Jersey, saying it is a unique opportunity for the seaside resort to revive its flagging fortunes and save thousands of jobs.
Michael Frawley, head of the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, told The Associated Press on Monday that the online could create a wave of new investment in Atlantic City during a time when few companies are interested.
Christie is expected to decide this week whether to sign or veto the bill, which would let gamblers set up accounts with the casinos and play from their homes. He vetoed a similar bill in 2011, citing concerns about its legality. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment Monday.
Rational Group US Holdings, the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, is asking New Jersey casino regulators for permission to buy the Atlantic Club for an undisclosed amount. If approved, the deal would mark the first purchase of an Atlantic City casino by an Internet gambling company.
"I see this as an amazing opportunity for New Jersey, a defining moment for The Atlantic Club, for the city and for New Jersey," Frawley said. "We have a potential purchaser willing to build its U.S. corporate headquarters in the city, and willing to build a call center elsewhere in New Jersey. This is much more than just someone sitting in their living room with a computer."
Frawley said Rational, based in Isle of Man, is willing to invest $80 million in the casino hotel over the next five years, including $30 million this year. The corporate office, whose estimated cost was unavailable Monday, would add about 100 management jobs to Atlantic City, Frawley added.
But a key unanswered question remains: Will Rational go ahead with the purchase if New Jersey does not allow Internet gambling? The company has declined to say, and Frawley said he does not know their intention in that regard. A spokesman for Rational did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Supporters of the bill include The Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry's trade association; Atlantic City's largest casino workers' union; an online gambling trade association; and several state lawmakers.
They fear New Jersey could be left behind in what they describe as a coming Internet gambling gold rush. Already, Nevada is licensing companies to conduct online gambling, and it and at least three other states are considering approving interstate gambling pacts in which groups of states can jointly offer online gambling.
"We are a gaming state; not to be actively involved in this would be a missed opportunity," Frawley said.
He said The Atlantic Club, which has struggled to stay afloat in recent years as competition increases in states surrounding New Jersey, is emblematic of the challenges facing all 12 of Atlantic's casinos. He said the city's smaller casinos collectively employ 7,000 to 8,000 workers, whose jobs could be made more secure by the added revenue and investment Internet gambling could generate.
Since the first casinos opened in neighboring Pennsylvania in 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenues have fallen from $5.2 billion to just over $3 billion last year. Thousands of jobs also have been lost.
"People here are scared," he said. "We have a chance we absolutely have to take advantage of. Frankly, I don't know how many more chances we're going to get."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC