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Tech issues block people from NJ online bet test

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WAYNE PARRY | November 21, 2013 10:19 PM EST | AP

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey is allowing adults in the state to click a mouse or swipe a screen for a chance to win money, making it only the third state to offer online gambling.

A five-day trial period of Internet gambling began Thursday night when players invited by casinos to test their systems made real-money bets online.

If all goes well, Internet gambling will be available to gamblers in New Jersey starting Tuesday. The only other states with online gambling are Nevada and Delaware.

It wasn't going well for Joseph Brennen. The unemployed bartender from Ventnor was excitedly trying to log on to any gambling site that would take him. Sitting in a McDonald's, with the Atlantic City Boardwalk casinos glittering in the distance, he kept getting security messages saying complex technology designed to ensure all players are within New Jersey's borders didn't believe he was in the state and were shutting him out.

It was a possible scenario detailed by The Associated Press in a weekend story quoting online gambling officials who said they moved their "online fences" away from the state's borders to ensure players from other states couldn't get online to gamble.

So Brennen drove 5 miles inland and 5 miles north to a highway rest stop, where he still encountered difficulty getting online.

"Over there, I was being told I wasn't in New Jersey," he said. "Here it's not telling me yes or no."

Back in the car again, he drove 10 more miles west, to a chain restaurant 15 miles from Atlantic City. One casino website still didn't recognize him as being in New Jersey. Another said it couldn't find him.

"It's frustrating knowing you're in the jurisdiction and you can't get anywhere," said Brennen, who vowed not to give up.

Tina Gonzalez, of Ocean Township, in Monmouth County, tried to set up an account with the Borgata casino but wound up in a 40-minute call-center purgatory, then set up an account with the Caesars casino and watched her computer crash.

"I made a small deposit, but when I tried to play they said I wasn't in New jersey," she said. "I'm afraid that when they try to do this statewide on the 26th it's going to be mayhem."

The seven casinos approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement collectively offered 14 websites where customers can make real-money bets.

The participating casinos are the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; the Tropicana Casino and Resort; Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino; the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort; Bally's Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City, along with the Golden Nugget.

The Tropicana Casino and Resort set up an interview for a reporter with one of its customers Thursday, then canceled it, saying it hadn't yet gotten the go-ahead from its information technology partners to launch the system.

The test period was established to determine whether technology designed to ensure all gamblers are in New Jersey and at least 21 years old works correctly. The test also will evaluate electronic payment technology and the integrity and functionality of the casino games.

Online betting will mark the biggest expansion of gambling in New Jersey since casino gambling began in 1978.

Alisa Cooper, a commissioner with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said it was a "very exciting time" for Atlantic City and the gambling industry.

"With the dawn of Internet gaming, we are on the cusp of perhaps the biggest change — and challenge — since the first casino opened here," Cooper said.

Hours before the test was to begin, a state lawmaker unveiled a proposal to lure foreign online gambling companies. Sen. Raymond Lesniak's bill would entice foreign betting firms to set up shop in the state — even though they could take bets only from overseas gamblers — and be subject to its famously tough casino regulation.

The payoff to New Jersey would be a 15 percent tax on their winnings, plus payments into a fund to raise $20 million a year for three years for its struggling horse racing industry. Lesniak said the foreign companies want the stamp of approval strict New Jersey regulation would bring.

PokerStars, the world's largest poker website, wasn't cleared to participate in the test with its land-based casino partner, Resorts Casino Hotel. PokerStars spokesman Eric Hollreiser said the company is continuing its talks with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Regulators say from 500 to several thousand people could be online at any one time during the test period. Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck said he hoped to push the system and test its capacity.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC