By Joe Irace, Oceanport Councilman
The latest Atlantic City Rescue Plan by the State of New Jersey for all intents and purposes, ensures a slow and painful death by a thousand cuts to New Jersey’s horse racing industry all so that our elected officials in Trenton are both blinded and mesmerized by the bright shiny lights of Atlantic City. The political machine is fond of trumpeting the tired old canard that New Jersey’s racing industry is dying. They tell this big lie over and over again in the hope that by sheer repetition it will become the truth, all the while purposely ignoring the politically inconvenient fact that Atlantic City’s gambling industry is not dying, but is actually dead and has been so for quite some time.
This proposed plan ignores the most obvious socially and fiscally responsible solution: allowing for the installation of video lottery terminals, slot machines or a gaming casino at the Meadowlands.
Why does the State continue to ignore this solution? Because a great number of our unelected officials, entrenched bureaucrats and political power brokers in Trenton, rather than deal with the realities attendant to the success of the introduction of video lottery terminals or casinos at racetracks in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, have decided that the State of New Jersey is going to get into the business of subsidizing the failed business model that is Atlantic City. Some of the most shrewd and brilliant businessmen in the world couldn’t sustain the Atlantic City business model, yet Trenton’s powers that be are supremely confident that they are up to the task, the rest of the State of New Jersey be damned. And, quite frankly, why shouldn’t they be confident what with the tremendous success they’ve had over the past two decades with the revitalization of Camden, Newark and Paterson, the Xanadu Project, the School Construction Corporation, Abbott Districts, pension funding, budget balancing and the recent Race to the Top Application?
As evidenced by the success of gaming sites in Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania, the residents of the tri-state area are more than willing to forego the bucolic vistas offered by a ride down the N.J. Turnpike and Garden State Parkway and the urban “charm” of Atlantic City in favor of more convenient gambling venues. Notwithstanding the fact that the two most interested parties, the horsemen and the general public, are clamoring for a casino at the Meadowlands facility, the State dismisses the idea out of hand in favor of a proposal that provides neither party with what it wants.
Two reports by Christiansen Capital Advisors, commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Treasury, recommended the installation of slot machines at the Meadowlands. The reports stated that 5,000 machines at the Meadowlands would produce $750 million annually and that 10,000 machines would produce $1.5 billion annually. The same study suggested that 2,100 slots at the Meadowlands would reduce Atlantic City gross gaming revenue by .01 percent.
Senator Sean Kean recently said on the New Jersey Senate floor “if it (a Racino at the Meadowlands) were put to a vote we’d probably get a majority, if not a super-majority (in support), to save horse racing in the state of New Jersey.” Despite the overwhelming financial benefits flowing from such an arrangement, Trenton summarily dismisses the installation of Video Lottery Terminals, slot machines or a gaming casino in the Meadowlands in what can only be interpreted as a yet another deferential bow to Atlantic City’s political power brokers.
Given the fact that over the past decade or so New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware have destroyed Atlantic City’s monopoly on East Coast gaming, one would think that our friends in Trenton would have enough sense to fight fire with fire and move quickly towards the racino business model. Unless, of course, maybe our Atlantic City-centric friends from Trenton don’t want to move quickly because if they wait long enough for the racing industry to finally die, then they won’t have to share profits with anybody. How much would you like to wager that, after years of categorically denying the financial benefits of allowing gambling outside of Atlantic City, our friends in Trenton will have a sudden about face on the issue once the horsemen have been forced from the Meadowlands?
Trenton refuses to acknowledge the viability of the racino model and, instead, continues to dump on our horse racing industry and the 7,000 jobs, $110 million in federal, state and local taxes, and 57,000 acres of working agricultural landscape which come along with it. Racinos around the country employ nearly 30,000 people. Bringing racinos to New Jersey will create thousands of new jobs. Additionally, it will solidify many jobs that may be in danger of leaving our state in favor of states that have already authorized racino legsilation. Racinos are a proven model that states around the country are turning to for gaming. Twelve states have already implemented racinos and many more are debating proposals to allow them in the near future. In 2009, racinos around the country generated $2.6 billion dollars in tax revenue for state and local governments. Additionally, they strengthen the state’s agricultural industry. Racinos allow existing racetracks to grow their purses, spurring new investments in breeding racehorse ownership throughout the state. Additional racehorses will create more jobs and improve the overall economic impact. As Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and the nine other racino states can attest – racinos improve the rural economy. But the health and well being of our state’s rural economy does not seem to be of paramount importance to the movers and shakers in Trenton. Why should they spend a few million dollars to shore up and promote a proven, historically viable and stable commodity like horseracing, when instead they can throw HUNDREDS of millions of taxpayer money at a financial and social corpse like Atlantic City?
Racinos are a sure thing. Rushing with reckless financial abandon into the resurrection of Atlantic City is a sucker’s bet. Sure thing. Sucker’s bet. Sure thing. Suckers bet. Which one will our friends in Trenton take? If left to their own devices, I think we all know that our friends in Trenton will take the sucker’s bet every time. And since our friends in Trenton will be spending our tax dollars trying to raise the corpse that is Atlantic City and its gaming industry, we, the taxpayers, are the suckers. And we really are suckers if we let them do this without giving them a fight. I say that we bring the fight to them. Let’s do everything we can to get this matter to a vote of the New Jersey Legislature as soon as possible!