The territory should act fast to start allowing internet gambling, now that a U.S. Justice Department opinion has opened the way and major upgrades to its internet infrastructure near completion, Acting Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Violet Ann Golden said during budget hearings Wednesday.
The territory enacted online gambling in 2001, but halted it in 2004 in response to concerns raised by then-U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands David Nissman, Golden told the Finance Committee. (See "V.I. Internet Gaming Law Draws Feds’ Attention" in related links below.)
Then, in September of 2011, the U.S. Justice Department issued a memorandum which concluded "interstate transmission of wire communications that did not relate to sporting events or contests fall outside the reach of the Wire Act." she said. Since then, New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada have approved internet gambling laws, and "the list of states approving internet gambling continues to grow," Golden said.
Existing V.I. law authorizes internet gambling, and in light of the DOJ ruling, Golden said she believes the commission could approve internet gambling permit applications right now. But the consensus among commission members is that they would like an updated legal opinion on the subject from Attorney General Vincent Frazer, which they requested in March, Golden said.
At least two companies have already approached the commission about internet gambling, and as soon as Casino Control has that opinion in hand, it can begin approving applications, and the first permit could be issued in 2014, she said.
Golden also urged the Legislature to consider increasing the portion of gambling revenues directed toward the commission so that it would be funded entirely through those revenues and be "self-sufficient," as she put it.
The Casino Control Commission is funded through three funding sources: the General Fund, the Casino Revolving Fund and the Casino Revenue Fund. Gov. John deJongh Jr. is recommending a General Fund appropriation of $1 million for Fiscal Year 2014, an increase of $241,000 from the FY13 appropriation.
The Casino Revolving Fund, comprised of commission fees and penalties, is expected to generate $467,000 for the commission in 2014.
The Casino Revenue Fund, comprised of taxes on casino revenues, should contribute another $410,000 for the commission.
The rest of those funds are devoted to an array of institutions, based on complex legislative mandates.
The General Fund appropriation covers all wages, salaries and benefits at the commission, with $807,000 for wages and salaries, and $242,000 for employer contributions for Medicare, Social Security and benefits.
Casino Revenue Fund monies will cover commission operating expenses, and the Casino Revolving Fund monies will constitute its imprest fund.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing.