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New Jersey Governor backs online gaming

(Reuters) - New Jersey's legislature has briefly delayed a vote on a bill that would legalize online gambling but Governor Chris Christie said the state should become an "epicenter" for the business.

A Christie spokesman confirmed the Republican governor's remarks, his first regarding online gambling after he vetoed a similar measure last year, questioning its legality.

Christie said: "I think we should be an epicenter for that business, but I want to do it right -- I do not want to rush and get legislation that either doesn't pass state constitutional muster, or creates other problems for us."

New Jersey's Atlantic City resorts have struggled in recent years due to fierce competition from neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Connecticut, which gained new tax revenue and jobs. The competition will get even stiffer if New York state legalizes table games, as Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed on Wednesday.

If legalized by New Jersey, Internet-based gambling would be limited to state residents, who would need to be in the state when playing, The Record newspaper reported in its print edition on Wednesday. Additionally, computer servers for the games -- poker, blackjack and baccarat -- would have to be located in New Jersey's Atlantic City, a bid to boost its resorts.

Christie vetoed a similar measure last year to legalize online gambling, but The Star Ledger said a late December ruling by the Justice Department clarified legal concerns held by the governor.

New Jersey's Internet gambling bill, if approved, would not allow betting on sports, in accordance with the Justice Department's ruling that online gaming does not violate the law but sports gaming remains illegal.

The state legislature was expected to vote on the Internet gaming measure on Monday, but its chief backer, Democratic Senator Raymond Lesniak, in a statement on Wednesday said he expected lawmakers to enact a bill and send it to Christie in the first few weeks of the new legislative session.

The current session ends on Monday. The new session begins on Tuesday, a Lesniak spokesman said by email.

(Reporting By Joan Gralla; Editing by Leslie Adler and Diane Craft)

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