Around the Nation
3:17 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Online Gambling In The Garden State Gets Off To A Slow Start

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 7:18 pm

Jason Schlachter has been gambling for a living since college, mostly online, and he makes lots of money doing it. The trouble is, New Jersey — where he does his gambling — isn't having the same success. The state legalized online gambling in 2013, expecting a $160 million windfall in tax revenue, but it has earned less than $8 million so far. WNYC's Jessica Gould looks at what's gone wrong with New Jersey's big bet.

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Transcript

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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When New Jersey legalized online gaming last year, Governor Chris Christie told taxpayers that the new industry would bring in more than $100 million in badly needed tax revenue. The reality has been a tiny and disappointing fraction of that.

But reporter Jessica Gould of member station WNYC has the story of one man who is making Jersey's online gaming work for him.

JESSICA GOULD, BYLINE: Monday through Friday, Jason Schlachter leaves his New York City apartment and joins the throngs outside for his commute to work.

JASON SCHLACHTER: It makes me like part of the real workforce.

GOULD: He takes the train across the river to New Jersey and walks to his office, a small table in a corner of a Dunkin Donuts with free WiFi. For eight hours a day, Schlachter, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, sits hunched over his laptop, playing up to 18 poker tables at a time on websites like 888 Poker, WSOP.com, and theborgata.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPS)

SCHLACHTER: You start with one site and then go on to the next site and find, you know, tables and games on that site.

GOULD: Schlachter is 32. He been playing poker player since he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics and psychology. He considered going into finance, but poker just seemed easier. But after spending days on end at Atlantic City casinos, he missed his wife back in the city. So he was thrilled when New Jersey made it legal to gamble online.

SCHLACHTER: Generally, when somebody makes a bad play, sometimes I roll my eyes a bit and wonder what they were thinking.

GOULD: He won't say how much money he makes, but says it helps pay the $4,300 monthly rent for his Manhattan apartment.

SCHLACHTER: Business has been great.

GOULD: But the online gambling business has not been so good for the state. Governor Chris Christie budgeted $160 million in taxes this year alone. Less than $8 million has come in since the launch of online gambling last November.

State Senator Ray Lesniak co-authored the gaming legislation. He says Christie's projections were way too high and the rollout was bumpy.

SENATOR RAY LESNIAK: People trying to get online but being rejected because they weren't in the state of New Jersey when they actually were. And then the United States banks are just not used to online gaming being legal.

GOULD: Several banks and credit card companies still won't accept payments. Gamer Jason Schlachter has to deposit money at the casinos himself or do an electronic transfer.

These problems have been fodder for critics like former New York Governor George Pataki. He's now with the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. He says it's a drain on brick and mortar casinos.

GEORGE PATAKI: And the revenue that had been projected is not there by any stretch of the imagination. So this is something that we would hope states would take a look at and say, no, this isn't for us.

GOULD: Academics who study gaming still say there are signs of hope, once people get used to the technology. And the latest report shows that revenues from online gaming have grown over the past year, and the number of people signing up has risen to more than 320,000. If only they were as dedicated as Jason Schlachter.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPS)

SCHLACHTER: A player I've played with a whole lot with likes to bluff when I check to him. So I checked to him three times and he bluffed three times. And I called. And I won $80.

GOULD: As Schlachter gets ready to head home, another young man, also in a sweatshirt and jeans, with the same scruffy beard, sits down behind him, plugs in his laptop and starts playing online poker.

For NPR, I'm Jessica Gould in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.