David Rebuck has ridden the roller coaster in Atlantic City. Appointed by Governor Chris Christie in 2011 to completely revamp gaming regulation in the state, he got involved in promulgating the rules for online gaming, approved by the state legislature in 2013. And within the past year, he has overseen the closure of four Boardwalk casinos at a loss of more than 8,000 jobs. To hear a full podcast of this interview with GGB Publisher Roger Gros, where he talks about iGaming, the status of Revel, the future of Atlantic City and the possibilities for expanded gaming in New Jersey, visit GGBmagazine.com.
GGB: What has been the impact of the closures of the casinos and the real difficulties in Atlantic City over the last year on the DGE?
David Rebuck:The major impact in closure to the casinos has been an economic impact on the region—a significant loss in jobs, and the filtering down to other businesses that provide goods and services to the region that are now impacted. So, that was a very tough year, 2014, for us. The impact on us, as regulators, was to make sure that the closures were done in a professional and effective way, with as little impact on the people who were truly impacted—the employees—as possible.
We’re still well positioned to deal with the oversight and the integrity of the industry for eight casinos and internet gaming, but it was a very difficult year for all of us.
What do you think about the idea to expand casino gaming into other regions of the state?
New Jersey is in a very interesting period of time right now, where casino gaming has been restricted to one city, obviously Atlantic City. The state has begun the dialogue and the debate as to whether or not that should change. If it does, the focus is clearly on the highly populated northern region of the state, the New York metropolitan, the North Jersey market—probably the No. 1 market for possible expansion in the United States by the industry, because of the population, as well as the affluence. And I’m sure the legislature, as it considers whether or not expansion is viable, will consider if it is viable, how it is to be structured with ownership interest in an expanded area.
The effort right now in Atlantic City is to create more non-gaming amenities. Does the DGE play any role in encouraging that?
I sit on the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. So, I wear that hat in working as a board member to assist in the redevelopment and funneling of revenue into these non-gaming projects… But as DGE director, when I put that hat on, there is an area where we have a responsibility to assist, and that is in the area of the alcoholic beverage venues, whether they’re owned by the casino and operated by the casino, or whether a third-party vendor. And we were very active in working with Bart Blatstein, who (is developing) the Caesars Pier… I believe that he would be one to tell you that we did that in a very effective and efficient, professional way, that allowed him to become operational in the time frame that he wanted to allow for a non-gaming entity to be in operation this summer, for visitors to Atlantic City.
One of the areas you can have a lot of influence in is innovation in gaming products. How has that effort been going?
Our lab, led by Eric Weiss, has done a great job, and we’ve made it known to the industry, with the casinos as well as AGEM and their representatives, that we’re ready, willing and able to look at any device that they want to bring in, whether it be skill-based gaming, whether it be social gaming, whether it be an expansion on a slot machine product that’s unique and novel. We’ll take it on and we’ll look at it in a very prompt way and get a response back to them faster than any other jurisdiction in the United States. It’s my commitment to them, and I think we’ve delivered on that.
You mentioned skill games. How important is it that the industry get this right?
It’s an area where I do believe that the gaming community needs to be more aggressive in the future, because I think it’s well known in this industry that if it does not adapt and innovate to what may be interesting to others, particularly the millennials or younger generation, then it will go the same route as other gaming interests that have fallen off that slippery slope of being irrelevant in what is interesting, exciting and entertaining.
One of the things New Jersey was proactive on was fantasy sports. The legislature passed a bill in 2012 allowing the casinos to offer some sort of fantasy sports activity here. Why didn’t that develop?
I believe that the timing wasn’t right for us in one way, and at the same time, that the fantasy sports regulations that we approved went out a few years ago, and we also became very aggressive in trying to roll out internet gaming. And I think it was very difficult for the casinos in New Jersey to multitask to two new products. And they made a choice—rightly so, I believe—to focus their efforts on internet gaming, which was on a very aggressive timeline, and there was a desire to do it and do it right on their part. What suffered was the fantasy sports, because they couldn’t put research and development resources into that… In hindsight, I wish they could have multitasked. I would have loved to have been the base for fantasy sports play in the country out of Atlantic City. It just didn’t work out.