A five-day trial period of Internet gambling begins at 6 p.m. Thursday when players invited by casinos to test their systems make real-money bets online.
The test period was established to determine whether sophisticated technology designed to ensure that all gamblers are within New Jersey and that they are 21 or older works correctly. The test also will evaluate electronic payment technology and the integrity and functionality of the casino games.
If all goes well, Internet gambling will be available to gamblers within New Jersey starting Tuesday. The only other states to offer online gambling are Nevada and Delaware.
Online betting will mark the biggest expansion of gambling in New Jersey since casino gambling began in 1978.
"This is a very exciting time for Atlantic City and for the gaming industry," said Alisa Cooper, a commissioner with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
"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 to New Jersey. Sen. Raymond Lesniak's bill would entice foreign betting firms to set up shop in the state - even though they could only take bets from overseas gamblers - and be subject to New Jersey's 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 New Jersey's struggling horse racing industry. Lesniak said the foreign companies want the stamp of approval that strict New Jersey regulation would bring.
Thursday afternoon, the state was to release a list of gambling websites that had passed rigorous testing and would be permitted to go live at 6 p.m. for the test.
Regulators say from 500 to several thousand people could be online at any one time during the test period. David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said he hopes to push the system and test its capacity.
He said all indications so far suggest the system should work as designed to meet strict regulation and protect players.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "Testing has been going on for months. I don't think there is any online gaming anywhere in the world that is going to be monitored as closely and protect the integrity of the games and players' money as well these will."