ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) Scott Blumstein's path to winning more than $8.1 million as the World Series of Poker champion started in the online poker rooms of New Jersey.
While internet gambling has helped Atlantic City's beleaguered casino industry begin to recover, Blumstein credited his online experience with helping him win the biggest prize in poker after he defeated more than 7,000 players to win the series' marquee no-limit Texas Hold `em main event early Sunday in Las Vegas.
''Two weeks ago, I was just a New Jersey online grinder and nothing's really changed,'' the 25-year-old with an accounting degree from Philadelphia's Temple University told reporters.
New Jersey is one of only three states that offer internet gambling, along with Nevada and Delaware. Other states are considering legalizing it, including neighboring Pennsylvania, but there's also a looming threat that Washington could crack down on the industry.
The action online pales in comparison to the state of online poker before the federal government cracked down on offshore sites in 2011, but players in New Jersey can now legally play at all hours of the day.
Pros play multiple games at once, including tournaments and cash games. New Jersey also offers live poker in many of its Atlantic City casinos, with the poker room at the Borgata considered among the top places to play on the East Coast.
''The best way to get better at anything is through repetition and practice,'' said Blumstein, who lives in Brigantine, next to Atlantic City. ''When you play online in New Jersey, it's hard for any live pro to see even close to the amount of hands I've probably seen in the last two years.''
Blumstein won about $200,000 in his largest previous cash after winning a $500 tournament at the Borgata last year.
FOUR YEARS ONLINE
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie legalized internet gambling, including poker, in February 2013, a month before Blumstein turned 21. Online sites backed by the state's casinos began taking bets online in November 2013.
That has helped revive Atlantic City's struggling casino industry, which has seen five of its 12 casinos go out of business in the last three years. Atlantic City's casinos posted their first revenue increase in a decade last year backed by money won from gamblers online.
Only players physically in the state can gamble online, with an electronic fence created by geolocation technology keeping others out.
Players in Nevada and Delaware can play against each other, but New Jersey has yet to reach an agreement with the other states.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he wants to take a second look at a Justice Department ruling authorizing internet gambling, and several measures have been proposed but not enacted.
Christie on Friday signed a measure urging President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress not to ban internet gambling.
In an interview last year with The Associated Press during the presidential campaign, Trump declined to take a position, saying ''I have a lot of friends on both sides of this issue.''
Las Vegas Sands casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong financial supporter of Trump, is one of the leading proponents seeking to stop it.
The bill passed by the Democrat-controlled New Jersey Legislature and signed by Christie says a federal prohibition against internet gambling would negatively impact New Jersey, ''dismantling the investments that the state and Atlantic City casinos have already made to implement and regulate internet gaming.''
Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano, in Las Vegas, and Wayne Parry, in Atlantic City, contributed to this story.