Senate Pres. Sweeney: Atlantic City Economy Needs to Diversify

Gov. Chris Christie has called a summit on the future of Atlantic City, scheduled for next month just days before Revel closes. Key policymakers and local leaders will meet on revitalizing a city crucial to the state’s economy. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that he is happy that Christie has agreed to organize a panel discussion on Atlantic City.

“First I want to tell you I’m very happy that the governor has agreed with me because I announced that same panel discussion weeks ago,” said Sweeney. “So I’m glad the governor agrees and sees the need to bring all the stakeholders together for gaming and what I mean by gambling and needing to look at gambling as a holistic way. … We are surrounded by casinos now and we’re just saturated by them. And for us to think that the casino industry, the market that we had, $5.3 billion market that we had is coming back, it’s not.”

Sweeney said that the state has a wonderful resort community in Atlantic City that has not been marketed and that it hasn’t had a leader locally for several years. He also said that while the city’s current mayor, Don Guardian, has been doing an outstanding job, that all the other amenities in the city are not being seen.

Recently, Sweeney had said that the state had been marketing Atlantic City incorrectly for the 30 years since it didn’t grow where it needed to. He said that the plans that he, along with the governor, have put in place are working and that non-gaming revenue is almost at $1 billion.

Sweeney said that the economy in Atlantic City needs to be focused on areas other than gaming.

“The problem is we learned this as kids — if you put all the eggs in one basket, the outcomes are normally pretty bad. And for us for too long gaming was the focus of the economy there and we need to diversify the economy,” Sweeney said.

Although diversifying the economy may cost money, Sweeney said that it was the reason why he was open to having a conversation with stakeholders.

Sweeney says that currently about 12 percent of gamblers are heading to casinos in areas such as New York and Pennsylvania. If a casino were to open in North Jersey, Sweeney said that it could create a feeder that would go into Atlantic City and it would help recapture gaming dollars for the state.

On online gaming, Sweeney said that it hasn’t produced the revenue that was expected but that it is a correction that the market is taking.

In order to revamp Atlantic City and make it into an entertainment mecca, Sweeney said that a lot needs to be done.

“I think it’s going to be a location for regular employment, whether it’s architects, engineers, professionals where we bring people into the city and say we’re going to give you incentives to put your business here but also your residence, need to live in Atlantic City,” said Sweeney. “So I think it’s going to be a resort. I tell people it’s back to the future. Atlantic City was a resort and has a wonderful brand and we’re going to bring that back and we’re going to bring Atlantic City back as a resort with casinos like you do when you travel around the country, when you travel around the world. You go to different places that are really nice for vacations. We have everything you need in Atlantic City, we just need to the focus to be more on vacation rather than gaming.”