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Gambling Industry Welcomes Atlantic City Plan But Others Skeptical

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Jul/22/2010

 

Donald Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - Gov. Chris Christie's plan for state oversight of the casino district should boost the gaming industry, but it could take much longer to reverse Atlantic City's national reputation as a dirty and crime-plagued gambling haven, observers say.

Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, the national lobbying group for the casino industry, pledged his support in helping Christie to push the proposal through the state Legislature.

"We applaud the governor's efforts to boost tourism and visitation to all of the area's attractions, including our casinos," Fahrenkopf said in a statement Thursday. "We will be watching closely as the state Legislature addresses Gov. Christie's proposals in the weeks and months ahead. We anticipate a bright future for the region."

Although Fahrenkopf gave a positive view, a national group that is opposed to gambling criticized Christie's alliance with the casinos, calling it a partnership with a "predatory industry."

"The role of government is to protect its citizens from scam artists and con men, and the biggest scam artist and con man in the country is the gambling industry," said Guy Clark, chairman of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. "The government has abandoned its role in protecting citizens from the biggest scams and has become a partner in the con."

Clark said his organization, formerly known as the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, believes that Atlantic City will never be able to shake its image as a run-down gambling town - no matter what Christie and the casinos may do together to clean up the resort.

"It's had a reputation of being one of the biggest, most glitzy gambling areas in this country that is surrounded by wasteland," Clark said in an interview. "I think most people who have visited have noticed the slums surrounding the casinos. It's pretty depressing."

Christie announced plans Wednesday for a new state authority to take charge of Atlantic City's casino and entertainment district. He said the plan would make the city more tourist-friendly by cleaning up blight and tackling crime.

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, described Christie's proposal as an unprecedented attempt at government control for a casino market. A rough analogy would be the tribal development councils that oversee Indian-owned casinos on the reservations, he said.

"I think it's a pretty bold plan," said Schwartz, a native of Atlantic City.

Schwartz said Christie apparently believes that the state can do a better job than the city in policing and cleaning up the casino district.

"The question is, will they be able to do it?" he said. "You're taking away control from the local government. But it's possible that the state won't be more efficient than local government. I don't know of any branch of government in the country that has a reputation for efficiency."

While he thinks Christie's plan holds great promise, Schwartz added that Atlantic City still must overcome the perception that it is "really dirty and slum-ridden."

"For whatever reason, the perception is that Las Vegas is clean and safe and Atlantic City is not clean and safe," he said.

"Any tourist destination is going to have its share of crime, but the perception is that there is more of that in Atlantic City."

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