New Jersey Is Letting Gambling Dollars Get Away

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

By Raymond J. Lesniak (NJ.com Editorial)

*Note:  Ray Lesniak serves in the New Jersey State Senate and is behind a lawsuit that would help bring billions of dollars to the state through legalized online sports betting.

I don’t disagree with The Star-Ledger’s editorial supporting Casino Reinvestment Development Authority money staying in Atlantic City, but does anyone really think CRDA’s $30 million is going to make a difference?

Atlantic City needs major surgery, not a Band-Aid. While the Hanson Commission’s proposal on CRDA cash is a positive step to reinvest casino dollars into the Atlantic City community, it falls far short of the transformational change needed to reinvigorate New Jersey’s gaming and entertainment industries.

Atlantic City’s problems were already pretty dire before New York State approved slots at Aqueduct Racetrack and laid the groundwork for a casino in New York City. A few days of operations at Aqueduct and at a New York City casino would wipe out a year’s worth of CRDA dollars flowing back to Atlantic City.

Our political leaders have to take their heads out of the sand and acknowledge Atlantic City needs a total transformation to remain a viable tourist attraction. And that takes money — real money. We have to invest resources and energy into proposals that will generate serious capital for Atlantic City, resources that are currently flowing out of New Jersey.

There’s real money to be had for the taking — the dollars now being sucked out of New Jersey by offshore internet gambling operations.

Hundreds of millions can flow into Atlantic City from intrastate online gaming, which is not prohibited under current federal law. And there would still be enough revenue to supplement horseracing purses to keep that $1 billion, 16,000-job industry alive.

I’ve sponsored legislation that would allow casinos to conduct poker games over the World Wide Web, only to see it bottled up by casino interests headquartered outside of New Jersey that are lobbying Congress to preclude states from receiving online gaming revenues. Greed is their driving motive, not what’s best for Atlantic City and our state.

The giant step that should also be taken is to allow slots at the Meadowlands so we can keep these gambling revenues in New Jersey. Most of the gaming dollars that slots at the Meadowlands would attract would not otherwise be spent in Atlantic City, but across the border in casinos and racinos in neighboring states.

According to the American Gaming Association in the 2010 Survey of Casino Entertainment, New York’s eight racinos generate more than a billion dollars for the state’s economy. Pennsylvania’s nine commercial casinos and six racinos generate more than $3.5 billion in economic output. And Delaware’s three racinos generate more than a half-billion dollars for that state’s economy. Twenty-six gaming facilities in states neighboring New Jersey pull in a grand total of more than $5 billion.

There’s room enough to capture some of those gaming dollars, for reinvestment in Atlantic City and our state’s horse tracks, to turn the Garden State’s gaming destinations into productive economic engines and job creators for the state.

While Atlantic City’s casino operators cry foul every time someone brings up slots at the Meadowlands, these same companies control most of the out-of-state gaming facilities that are sucking dollars right out of New Jersey’s pockets. How’s that for irony?

Whether we tap online gaming or authorize slots at the Meadowlands, we can transform Atlantic City into a tourist destination as well as save the racing industry in New Jersey. This isn’t an either-or decision. Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake. It’s going to take guts, and a commitment to drastic, wholesale, systemwide change. Allowing Atlantic City to keep CRDA money just won’t cut it.

The Hanson Report shortchanges Atlantic City, the racing industry, the Meadowlands and the state. Our gaming economy can produce so much more.

Raymond J. Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, represents the 20th District in the New Jersey Senate.

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