New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered a bright light at the end of the tunnel for the Atlantic City casino operators last month when he introduced a plan drawn up by his commission to study gaming, entertainment and sports in the state, which included the racing industry. The plan, he said, would provide some stability for the gaming industry and certainty for investors in Atlantic City. The commission, headed up by John Hanson, former head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, was wide-ranging and positive in almost every sense for Atlantic City and the casino industry.
Christie led off the press conference on the Boardwalk by saying that this plan would “remake Atlantic City.”
“I made a commitment during the campaign and say it again six months later: I don’t think it’s the appropriate time to consider having gaming anyplace else but Atlantic City,” he said.
The governor stressed the urgency of the situation.
“Atlantic City is dying. The question is are we going to allow the same doctors who put the patient in this condition to treat the patient?” asked the governor. “If anybody’s got a better idea, come forward with it. It’s not going to fix itself.”
Some of the proposals in the Hanson report include the following:
- Eliminate consideration of any gaming outside Atlantic City—including VLTs at state racetracks—for the foreseeable future while the plan to revitalize the city is under way.
- Create a state-run “gaming and entertainment” district in Atlantic City, which would draw up a master plan for the area and include marketing and operations within that area. Christie describes it as a public-private partnership that would also absorb the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
- Dedicate all Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds directly to Atlantic City, eliminating the contributions that were slated to go to other parts of New Jersey.
- Eliminate state ownership of racetracks, including the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, while also eliminating the $30 million annual subsidy provided by the state gaming industry.
- Close the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the state-owned racetracks and stadiums. The NJSEA recently revealed it is more than $38 million in debt and would require a state bailout.
- Eliminate state support—except in a public-private partnership—for the Xanadu project at the Meadowlands, “which is the ugliest building in New Jersey,” according to Christie. “Make it work or tear it down.”
Christie emphasized that time is of the essence in approving and implementing the plan.
“Swift, bold action is what it will take,” he said. “And we’re prepared to move quickly to make this happen. Delay will lead to demise.”
The goal, according to the report, is to reignite investment in Atlantic City.
“We want to create a business climate in Atlantic City that will create a climate that will encourage investment and create jobs—long-term, sustainable jobs for South Jersey,” he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, convened a “gaming summit” designed to look into the Republican governor’s plan. The first hearing degenerated into a confrontation between racing interests in the northern part of the state and gaming interests in the south, a traditional split in New Jersey.