David Rebuck is about to conclude 13 years as head of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the longest reign in the history of the agency. During his time, the DGE set regulations after the legalization of iGaming, helped New Jersey become the first state to operate sports betting outside of Nevada, oversaw the closing of four Atlantic City casinos in one year, endured the pandemic, and much more. Rebuck recalled all those issues in a podcast with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in the DGE offices in Atlantic City in December. To hear and view a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: When you were first appointed, the DGE took over all the investigatory functions previously shared with the Casino Control Commission, which then become only the licensing entity. What kind of relationship did you have at that point with the CCC, and what do you have now?
Rebuck: At the time, that was the biggest change in the structure of oversight and regulation of the industry. The commission would have hearings that would approve or disapprove licenses for owners, supervisors, key employees, qualifiers and more after the division did the investigation, so you’d have a check on the division. And then, there’s an appeal mechanism. And over the years, we’ve had very few decisions overturned.
After you were appointed, there was a move to legalize iGaming, which had never been legalized anywhere in the United States before, so you had no blueprint. How difficult was it to draw up the regulations?
Well, it was a huge challenge. But we couldn’t fail. Under the legislation, we were given nine months to implement a regulatory model for internet casino gambling. Now, we saw it coming, so I will be honest to say we started doing research long before that law got signed into place… We made contact with regulatory bodies and companies in Europe that were here or coming here to give us their ideas, their concepts. We did a lot of listening, a lot of questioning. We had to make sure that we had consumer protections and integrity in place.
There was a concern that iGaming would cannibalize brick-and-mortar casino revenues. How did you approach that?
Given what has happened since then, it has rescued the casino industry in New Jersey. If we hadn’t legalized iGaming, it would be a different environment here today. It definitely did not cannibalize the offerings. It’s brought in a new demographic of individuals who they can market to, and it has expanded their opportunities to be successful as a business.
Five years ago, sports betting was legalized and the DGE was ready for that. New Jersey was the first one to launch outside of Nevada. How did you prepare for that?
As you know, the litigation went on for years. I don’t know if anyone knows this, but when we first drafted regulations, it was when the law was passed in 2011. We were ready to take that first bet. And then the injunction came in from the federal government. So we had a first round of regs that we had researched and studied. Now, I’ll tell you this, in hindsight, I wish it hadn’t taken seven years to get started. But the best thing that happened to us was in that seven-year window. We got to be stronger.
Some of the toughest times were the closing of four casinos in 2014. How did that affect you?
I was very depressed. I never want to close another casino again; it is horrible. The impact on people is huge. Losing their jobs and the impact on the community was disastrous. I don’t see any casinos closing now—changing, selling to different owners, yes, but closing, not making it, no, I don’t see it.