Give North Jersey a chance

June 3, 2016

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by Dave Little

My wife sends me emails from time to time of breaking news stories. A shooting here, corruption there, a fire somewhere, Donald Trump said something in a politically incorrect way to infuriate some group, and of course, Hillary Clinton’s never-ending string of email horror stories.

After reading another of these emails she sent me last Friday, it got me thinking: Is it really possible that the casino gaming measure in Northern New Jersey WON’T pass. Because if it doesn’t, that would be a shame.

The headline from the story, sent out May 27 from the website NorthJersey.com read “Christie signs financial rescue package for Atlantic City.”

Haven’t we been down this road before?

Plummeting hotel revenues, one-third of its casinos having closed in 2014 and dwindling property values once again have AC on the brink of default. And once again, the city needs help to continue conducting its business as usual.

According to the article, written by Dustin Racioppi and Salvador Rizzo, Christie signed into law a pair of bills giving Atlantic City five months to come up with a plan to reform its finances over the next five years.

Can anybody tell me why we can expect a different outcome as compared to what we’ve seen in the five years leading up to this point? If Atlantic City was still a big-time destination for resort-loving gamblers, would we even be having this discussion?

The story read: “After years of declining gaming revenues, falling real estate values, eroded property tax collections, and the closure of four of its 12 casinos in 2014, the city is in dire economic straits – and even with Christie’s signature on a financial rescue package, experts say it may not be able to avoid a default on its debt, which stands at more than $400 million.”

Now, I’m no political or financial genius, but AC has a New Jersey state monopoly on casino gaming and the town is $400 million in the hole! Give me a break!

And while you’re at it, give North Jersey a chance.

As we draw closer to the presidential election in November, Garden State residents will have another huge decision to make once they close the curtain in the voting booth: Vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to casino gaming. I suppose Atlantic County residents aren’t too big on the idea, as yes, if the measure passes, there will be even more troubled times ahead for Atlantic City residents and politicians.

But they’ve had their chance. The city was supposed to be re-invigorated when it got casino gaming in the late 1970s, and naturally, business boomed for years. That is, until the last decade or so when Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and now Maryland got into the casino business as well.

Truth be told, I’m still an AC customer. I go down with my friends for a long weekend once or twice a year, even though the casinos don’t want me. All of the race books I frequented in years past are all gone. I trekked to the Borgata during my last visit to play the ponies. The place was gorgeous. Couldn’t understand why all of the other hotels had no horses. Until I asked one of the tellers, who said: “The profit margin operating a race book just isn’t big enough.” Oh, well.

It should have come as no shock when revenues and interest in AC floated away like a barge in the Atlantic Ocean as the neighboring states had gleaming new structures that were much closer to where the customer lived. If you were in Philadelphia, there was no longer any need for you to drive to AC if you wanted some action for an evening. You simply drove to Parx or Harrah’s Philadelphia.

The casino business is like any other. If you provide a more customer-friendly environment than the other guy and the trip is 30-60 minutes shorter, you go there to get your action.

I realize there is already a proliferation of casino opportunities for the consumer, but Northern New Jersey would be a new horizon. Bergen County is one of the wealthiest in the country based on its median estimated income of $82,105 (according to realtor.com). Atlantic County’s is a little over $57,000. Unfortunately, that’s now a lot of their fan base. Why? Because people aren’t traveling as much to get their action. How do we know this? Atlantic City’s steady fall from grace.

Hopefully, they’ll be enough support as summer turns to fall for the gaming measure to pass. Possible sites for Northern New Jersey casinos include the Meadowlands and Jersey City. People are at times critical of the racing at the Big M, yet, if they had only a small portion of possible casino revenues, they’d be able to once again offer purses like they did in generations past. The playing field would be level. Pennsylvania and New York would then have to battle the Garden State for racehorses and top sires.

Let’s hope my wife doesn’t send me an email with the headline “Thumbs Down for North Jersey Casinos” shortly after Election Day. Atlantic City had its chance. Let someone else have a shot.

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