New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck served as the luncheon speaker at the Seton Hall Law School Gaming Law, Compliance, and Integrity Boot Camp on Monday.
It’s a familiar role for the nation’s most prominent regulator, having overseen the launch of the first U.S. free-market online casino gaming platform in 2013 and then helping implement regulated sports betting within weeks of the Supreme Court’s 2018 nullification of a 26-year-old federal law that had effectively limited the gambling to Nevada.
But while Rebuck has been at the helm of the DGE since April 2011, he seems to have no intention of serving as a lifetime appointee.
“I’m still challenged every day, but it’s probably time for new leadership to come in at some point in time to take over — that’s life,” Rebuck said following the luncheon speech.
Rebuck, who served for 23 years as a deputy attorney general and became a senior policy advisor to Gov. Chris Christie before taking the DGE job, said, “When I was asked to come to Atlantic City, I didn’t want to come. But you don’t say no to Governor Christie.
“He told me that I should tell him when things had turned around, name a replacement, and come back to [the governor’s] staff,” Rebuck added. “I was bound and determined to get things turned around within a year or two, max. But after six months, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.”
AC casinos were in peril
The arrival of casinos in Pennsylvania and New York in 2006 continued to erode the bottom line of the Atlantic City casino industry.
“We did everything we could to delay closings, which we knew were going to happen — but we didn’t think we’d have four,” Rebuck said of the 2014 shutterings of Revel, Trump Plaza, Showboat, and The Atlantic Club. Trump Taj Mahal then closed its doors in 2016, leaving the industry with only seven casinos until two years later, when Hard Rock and Ocean Casino opened on the same summer day.
Rebuck said the closings had made him “depressed,” and they were even more devastating than the impact of COVID-19 on the industry in 2020-21.
Online casino revenue is now booming, routinely producing about $135 million per month in revenue for operators. Rebuck recalled that the new gambling produced only modest returns in the early years. But the addition of sports wagering — including a mobile component with the casinos as partners — also helped keep the casinos afloat during the pandemic.
While the sagging fortunes of the industry in 2014-16 kept Rebuck focused on the job, he said that he had been “ready to go” before COVID hit the industry.
“I had a sinking feeling that we’re in big trouble, because we had to close the casinos [in March-July 2020], and I had no idea what was going to happen,” Rebuck said. “I didn’t want to leave during COVID — I would feel like a captain jumping ship.”
What’s next in U.S. gaming?
Rebuck chuckled when asked about prominent lobbyist Bill Pascrell III’s prediction on Monday that Texas would implement sports betting before California or Florida among the three largest states.
Texas will “go live” with sports betting before CA or FL, is today’s bold prediction by gaming lobbyist Bill Pascrell III at the Seton Hall Law School Boot Camp in Newark #sportsbiz
— John Brennan (@BergenBrennan) May 16, 2022
“Bill may know something I don’t know,” Rebuck said, noting that Texas is in a region that has mostly resisted the expansion of gambling.
As for which would be the last state to ever legalize sports betting, Rebuck said in his opinion, Utah has that designation. He added that even with 39 online casino websites authorized in New Jersey, “that number will probably go up — but not by a lot.”
The DGE has hired Rutgers University to research issues of problem gambling, and operators have agreed not only to provide their customer data to researchers, but also to fund the program. A new report is imminent, Rebuck added.
Multi-factor identity authentication to log in to sports betting sites will be mandatory in the state by June 30, said Rebuck, who gave a nod to FanDuel for being the first operator to do so.
Photo by John Brennan