BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Gaming Chairman Discusses American Dream Project, Why Gambling Should Stay in AC

Gov. Chris Christie put Jon Hanson in charge of the new Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Advisory Commission two years ago. Hanson spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about the American Dream project and the option of gaming facilities outside of Atlantic City.

Hanson said the one major remaining project for the commission is the American Dream project, formerly known as Xanadu. “We’ve spent a lot of time working on that to find a way that that project can open in the not too distant future,” he said.

Financing has been a challenge to the project. Hanson said he feels comfortable that the developer will be able to raise the necessary funds to complete the facility. He also said he believes a theme park from Dreamworks “is firm” to be part of the American Dream project.

Hanson said the project is good for New Jersey, but others might disagree. The Jets and Giants football teams have filed a lawsuit to stop it. “There’s litigation that’s pending and I choose not to talk about the lawsuit but I feel comfortable in the end there will be a compromise so that the teams are satisfied as well as the developer,” he said.

Another hot topic for the commission is the possibility of bringing gambling to areas in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City. A report Hanson helped commission for the governor in July 2010 recommended there be no gambling permitted outside Atlantic City for at least five years. Hanson said he stands by that recommendation.

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When he asked if he believed it would be a good idea to have gambling at the Meadowlands, Hanson said, “I think we’re going to see what happens in Atlantic City and the future will determine it.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg has suggested a trial run of sorts for gambling in other parts of the state by allowing a casino at the Meadowlands during the Super Bowl in 2014. Hanson said he had no opinion on that option because he hasn’t been asked to explore the issue.

Hanson said his commission recommended making Atlantic City more than just a gambling site. “I was pleased last week to be on the podium with Jimmy Buffett and the governor and Senate President [Stephen] Sweeney when we announced that Margaritaville will be coming to Atlantic City as part of the Resorts Hotel. It’ll be right on the beach. We think it will bring additional people to Atlantic City,” he said. “Atlantic City needs capital and it needs people to come to Atlantic City.”

Hanson explained that initially, the state is helping to fund Margaritaville, along with the private sector. He said the goal is to move all funding to the private sector. “The state’s role is to jump start things but the private sector does it better than the government so it should be the private sector,” he said.

At a time when lawmakers are debating if the state can afford to give residents a tax cut, some say public money shouldn’t be used to fund a venue like that. “We look at it as revenue that’s not presently being generated in the state of New Jersey. Therefore you’re using sales tax that does not exist today,” Hanson explained. “So we think it’s incremental to the sales tax being collected by the state.”

Hanson has worked closely with Christie and characterizes him as a hands-on governor who’s also “willing to delegate to people with whom he has confidence to carry out responsibilities.”

When asked if Christie will be delivering the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, Hanson said, “I’m in government today, I’m not in politics today.” He added even if he knew the answer, he wouldn’t reveal it.