BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Lawmaker Says Atlantic City Needs to Face Reality

It may be baseball season, but gambling has been the talk of the summer. The latest debate centers on the possibility of building casinos outside of Atlantic City. In a recent interview with NJ Today, the operator of the Meadowlands racetrack Jeff Gural told Managing Editor Mike Schneider that it’s only a matter of time before they get a casino there.

Then Jon Hanson, a Christie ally and chairman of the Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Advisory Commission, helped commission a report in July 2010 that recommended there be no gambling permitted outside Atlantic City for at least five years.

But now, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) takes issue with Hanson’s statements. Caputo says the east coast monopoly Atlantic City once enjoyed no longer exists. And according to Caputo, it’s time to face that stark reality.

“Atlantic City is not facing the reality that the gaming revenue, hundred millions of dollars, is now going to Pennsylvania and New York and the state of New Jersey is being deprived a tremendous amount of tax revenue that we desperately need for tax relief for real estate, for education, for whatever purposes that we need to form our pensions, etc.”

Jon Hanson isn’t the only one speaking in favor of Atlantic City’s monopoly in the state’s gaming market. Gov. Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney have vehemently opposed the idea of building a casino at the Meadowlands.

But Caputo says the decision should be left up to the people of New Jersey, saying “we’re standing in the way of allowing the voters to make that decision.”

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Despite the opposition by the administration and South Jersey lawmakers, Caputo is encouraged that legislation can advance especially after a hearing was held at the Meadowlands to hear testimony on the issue.

“Many legislators in Middlesex County through Bergen, Passaic and Hudson support my bill which is ACR-53, which would place that question on the ballot. So I think the game has changed and the tax structure that we have is not working for the state. When we could have afforded to pay more than 8 percent, we didn’t tax these casinos heavy enough. Now it’s difficult, but if we had a casino in the Meadowlands like in New York we would be taxing them 50 percent.”

Asked about the possibility of a two-tiered tax system for casinos, Caputo replied “so what?”

“I think there’s an unfair advantage already. What we want to do is defend ourselves against outside competition. The state of New York at this time and by the end of July already collected $662 million in tax revenue for the state without the rest of the year involved. We’re giving up in terms of convenience gaming. What Atlantic City is concentrating on in their worthwhile endeavors is making it a resort destination. But we have to do something about the outflow of revenue and gaming throughout these other states.”

Caputo said he would even be willing to support a pilot program that allowed for gambling at the Meadowlands. The proposal, co-sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, would allow for a Meadowlands casino when Super Bowl 2014 is played there.

He said grudgingly, “I don’t particularly agree with that, but the fact is I think it’s good for the discussion, it should go on the ballot and people should make the decision.”

The five-year plan spearhead by Hanson to buy Atlantic City time to turn things around, says Caputo, is way too long.

“At this point we’re really losing ground. Now the governor’s right about putting the reforms in Atlantic City. We should be doing that to make it a destination, but 5 years is too far down the line. We’ve got to monitor this thing very closely. The numbers should dictate, not what I say, not what anyone else says, the numbers should dictate what our decision is going to be.”