Starting today, gamblers in New Jersey can legally squander away their cash without having to leave the living room, thanks to 13 new gambling websites offering poker, blackjack, roulette, and so that were approved by the state yesterday. The six casinos offering games online are under a lot of pressure not to allow any players from states where internet gambling is still illegal. But on the borderless internet, it's not going to be easy for New Jersey to maintain a digital fence around state lines.
The Garden State became the third state in the US to approve online gambling after a five-day test period ended yesterday. The home of the once-booming Atlantic City is now hoping that opening up the internet floodgates can help save its struggling casino industry. But for many people, the issue is entangled in a political debate and moral gray area. As such, New Jersey's legislation includes strict regulations to freeze out out-of-staters and underage users.
Regulators use geolocation technology to determine players' location through various methods: tracking IP addresses, GPS services, wireless access point triangulation, screen-sharing detection software, and gathering cell phone location data.
But the system is hardly perfect; like any block on the internet, there's always a way to get past it. "I'm not saying this is foolproof by any means," David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement told press. "Somebody at some time will find a way to get around this, and we have to be extra vigilant."
Tech-savvy gamblers have used proxy servers to mask their real location in the past; remote servers can easily provide a fake IP address within state borders for a gambler thousands of miles away. There are even downloadable apps to help users fake their location. And since IP addresses don’t always update automatically, you can game the system by gambling while traveling across the border in a car or on the train.
This is especially problematic in New Jersey, where some of its most-populated cities like Hoboken are a stone's throw from the Delaware river bordering Pennsylvania, or the 1.5 million people living in Manhattan just across the Hudson.
"People will try to cheat," Rip Gerber, founder of the Locaid geolocation company told the Associated Press. "You know there will be some guy filming himself for YouTube, starting a poker hand in New Jersey on the PATH train and trying to finish it in New York."
The AP continued:
Matt Katz is founder of CAMS LLC, which provides geolocation technology to the Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza, and age verification technology to the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. He was asked if the best available technology could, for example, determine whether a player is riding in a car at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden, or whether that person had crossed over into Philadelphia—and into off-limits Pennsylvania territory.
"That is the kind of question that keeps me up at night," he said.
To avoid these insomnia-inducing scenarios, casinos and state officials decided to draw Jersey’s digital fence several miles in from the state border. However, the overly strict geolocation is causing a whole different set of problems. During the test-run, many frustrated users said they were blocked from the gambling sites even though they were legitimately in New Jersey. According to the blog iGaming, gamblers reported problems on 14 of the 17 gaming websites, mostly due to the geolocation technology freezing them out unnecessarily.
Still, officials aren’t “overly concerned” about these glitches, Lisa Spengler, a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, told the site. Facing stiff fines and a moral backlash if the fledgling online gambling program isn’t kept under strict regulation, better safe than sorry, she said. "It's better to have instances of people in New Jersey being blocked, than instances of people being able to gamble from outside of New Jersey.”