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Racino Rumble

Gee, I thought the Asbury Park Press would be an organization to get its facts straight, since the town's favorite native son is Bruce Springsteen.

Racino Rumble

Gee, I thought the Asbury Park Press would be an organization to get its facts straight, since the town’s favorite native son is Bruce Springsteen.

No, I have absolutely no idea what getting facts straight has to do with Bruce Springsteen. I just said it because Bruce Springsteen has been the only subject I ever associated with Asbury Park, other than that scary friggin’ face that used to be on the side of the amusement park building there.

That is, until the paper piped up in an editorial the other day about putting slot machines and other gaming at the Meadowlands and other New Jersey racetracks. It criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for “doubling down on Atlantic City as the only city in the state to allow casino-style gaming, and essentially putting horse racing out to pasture by refusing to allow video gambling at the state’s race tracks.”

Aren’t they clever? “Doubling down” on Atlantic City. You know, like in blackjack? Good one! Boy, I didn’t see that metaphor coming! (Sarcasm alert… Sarcasm alert…)

But beyond the obvious literary prowess of the newspaper’s editorial writers, the Press is just plain wrong, on many levels.

First, Christie doesn’t have the legal juice to “allow video gambling at the state’s racetracks.” Neither do the North Jersey lawmakers who are clamoring for racinos. The state constitution was amended in the 1970s to allow casino-style gambling in Atlantic City, and nowhere else. Therefore, casino-style gambling at the Meadowlands or any other New Jersey racetrack is as illegal as it would be in my back yard. (I offer good odds, by the way.) They can’t just pass a law to allow racinos. They need a constitutional amendment.

That’s why passing a law to put VLTs at New Jersey tracks will do nothing in the short term, other than making a lot of lawyers a lot of money. Atlantic City casinos would surely sue to block the law, and by the time it got out of the courts, the 26 octogenarians who currently attend live horse races in the state would surely be gone.

That’s another thing—Christie is “putting horse racing out to pasture” by refusing racetrack slots? No offense to those who love horse racing, but horse racing in New Jersey put itself out to pasture a long time ago. Have you been to any of these tracks on a weekday? It’s like a reunion of Gettysburg veterans.

The North Jersey lawmakers have been arguing a long time that racing is dying because casinos in other states have slot machines, but that argument doesn’t wash with me either. Racetracks like the Meadows south of Pittsburgh were successful long before they had slot machines. Racing in New Jersey is dying because people don’t go to the races anymore.

Propping the industry up with slot machines only provides life support to a dying industry at the expense of a healthy one—OK, one that could be healthy again. Putting VLTs at the tracks would be more like pulling a kidney out of one sick patient to extend the life of another patient who’s going to die anyway.

Yeah, yeah, I need to work on my metaphors.

The editorial centered on the need for racinos because of the SugarHouse opening in Philadelphia, asking, “Where does Christie believe that gamblers from southwestern and central New Jersey are going to toss their gambling ducats? Are they going to continue to patronize Atlantic City? Or are they going to travel the half-hour or less it will take many of them to get to SugarHouse?”

I took issue with that statement, once I looked up “ducats.” The answer is that those cats will spend their ducats in Philly for a while, because it’s a brand-new place. But since the Pennsylvania casinos have to pay a lot of taxes to the state, they won’t be able to reinvest in their properties like they can in Atlantic City. (OK, like they used to, and like they may soon do again.) They won’t be able to do generous odds and giveaways, and they won’t be able to afford the really big headline entertainment, at several different places, like you’ve got in Atlantic City.

In Pennsylvania, you’re not going to see Tony Bennett or Jerry Seinfeld. You’ll see Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees, or maybe the former bass player from the Cowsills. (I hear he’s fabulous.)

The bottom line is that the state of New Jersey stands to make more tax revenue from a healthy Atlantic City industry than a racing industry on multi-line crutches. Christie knows that.

Heck, I bet even Bruce Springsteen knows that. And he’s got lots of ducats.

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