ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Gamblers at Atlantic City casinos may someday be able to place bets while standing in line for dinner, in a lounge, or beside a swimming pool.
A proposal by state Sen. Jim Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, would let the casinos offer hand-held gambling devices to customers on casino property. The measure was approved unanimously Monday by the Senate's Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee and now heads to the full Senate for review.
Whelan says the devices would give casinos another tool to engage younger gamblers who have grown up with smartphones and tablet computers.
"It's a way of adapting to a generation of young adults who were weaned on smartphones and iPads," he told The Associated Press. "That's the way they communicate and interact and recreate."
Whelan said the technology exists to ensure the devices won't work if taken off the casino premises.
Nevada approved hand-held gambling devices in 2006, allowing them in public areas of casinos. But they can't be used in hotel rooms, where they could not as easily be monitored to make sure underage people aren't using them to gamble. Whelan's bill does not prohibit hotel use.
The Casino Association of New Jersey backs the bill, saying it "would authorize the use of the evolving technology of secure mobile gaming devices to permit casino patrons to participate in gaming activities from additional locations within each casino hotel facility."
"This innovation would provide an additional amenity to help Atlantic City further distinguish itself as the East Coast's premier gaming destination," the association said in a statement.
The proposal would have to be authorized by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement once it passes the state legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. Division Director David Rebuck said he's confident New Jersey could come up with regulations to ensure the integrity of the devices, as well as the ability to keep them out of the hands of children.
"If the industry wants it, we have the ability to regulate it," he said. "I don't think it's a heavy lift."
Rebuck said there are several potential safeguards that could be built into the devices to discourage underage gambling, such as requiring the re-entry of a PIN number into the device every few minutes. Or, New Jersey could adopt Nevada's ban on using the devices in hotel rooms, he said.
New Jersey considered allowing hand-held betting devices a few years ago, but did not move forward with it.
"But the marketplace has changed since then," Whelan said. "This is just an attempt to keep up with the technological age we live in."
The proposal comes as Atlantic City is feverishly trying to come up with new ways to attract customers and their gambling — and non-gambling — dollars. Since 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenues have fallen from $5.2 billion to $3.3 billion last year.
The state recently passed a law that would enable it to offer sports betting once a federal ban on it is overturned, and it also passed a law authorizing new, smaller casino-hotels with as few as 200 rooms, about one-tenth the size of the most successful large casinos here. It also tried without success to approve Internet gambling, only to have Christie veto a bill that would have made New Jersey the first in the nation to allow it.
The devices would be owned and controlled by the casinos, and handed out to patrons who establish a pre-paid account with the casino. The wager would have to be placed by — and paid out to — the gambler on the casino-hotel's grounds.