An Internet gambling bill sits on Gov. Christie’s desk waiting to be signed into law. The bill has broad support from lawmakers on both political parties, as well as union representatives who are calling on the governor to sign the bill. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Bob McDevitt, President of Local 54, Atlantic City’s largest casino workers union.
According to McDevitt, Internet gambling is merely one component of a larger plan to make Atlantic City more competitive in the East Coast gaming market. The numbers speak for themselves, said McDevitt, pointing to an erosion of AC’s gaming market.
“The market’s been devastated by 40 percent since 2007,” said McDevitt. “We were a $5.2 billion market, we’re now $3.1 billion market [and] there were 12 casinos then, there are 12 now. If you do mathematics, you know there’s not enough to support those hotels just based upon the casino revenues.”
But for the one particular casino, the stakes are high indeed for the bill to pass. “The sale of Atlantic Club really hinges on whether or not Internet gaming is allowed in Atlantic City,” said McDevitt.
Acknowledging that Atlantic City has made mistakes in the past, McDevitt said that the economic fallout from “convenience gaming” on Atlantic City is a phenomenon that no one in the industry had anticipated.
“The fact is that someone who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, if they’re 10 minutes away from a casino and they want to play blackjack or they want to go on a slot machine, they’re not going to drive an hour and a half to Atlantic City when 15 minutes will suffice,” McDevitt explained. “Convenience is not working for us because most of the population doesn’t live within 10 minutes of Atlantic City.”
When pointed out that Internet gambling would do little to fill Atlantic City’s hotel rooms and restaurants, McDevitt said it would capture an audience that would not be coming to Atlantic City anyway.
“Internet gaming is not a savior of Atlantic City,” said McDevitt, adding that Atlantic City needs to do more to present itself as a destination to attract visitors, conventions and business meetings.
The opening of Revel Resorts was heralded last year as the beginning of a new chapter in Atlantic City as resort destination, but the newcomer has failed to live up to expectations as a game changer, sinking deeper in debt. McDevitt said he opposed state funding of Revel, calling it a misguided effort by the state.
“If Revel was wildly successful, it would still cannibalize the market no different than a casino in Philadelphia has,” said McDevitt. “We have a market that shrunk by 40 percent. The only way we’re going to get that 40 percent back is if all the casinos in Pennsylvania close and that’s not going to happen, so we need other sources — Internet gaming, we would love to be able to wager bets on sporting events …. And really the conventions and business market, that’s what’s going to fill the hotels Monday through Thursday. On the weekends, Atlantic City is busy.”