New Jersey To Study Gambling Expansion

The only new twist in a longstanding debate in New Jersey on whether the state should expand casino gaming outside of Atlantic City before a state Assembly panel last week came when the committee head blasted Atlantic City casinos and charged they’d been bleeding the resort dry for decades. Still, opponents of the idea want to give Atlantic City time to finish a five-year push to revitalize the resort before considering new casinos, including one at the Meadowlands (l.), near New York City.

Apparently the gloves are coming off in the longstanding debate to expand casino gaming beyond Atlantic City in New Jersey.

The head of a state Assembly panel pushing for a study of whether casino gambling should be expanded to the Meadowlands sports complex and other parts of the state took sharp aim at Atlantic City casino during a hearing on the proposal last week

At the hearing—no vote was scheduled—Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, an Essex County Democrat, said he does not want to hurt Atlantic City, but the time is right to evaluate the effectiveness of a package of incentives to help Atlantic City passed by the state Legislature three years ago.

Governor Chris Christie has given Atlantic City five years to show serious signs of improvement before he will consider asking voters to approve casinos elsewhere in the state. The resort is about three years into that plan.

But echoing voices long impatient to see casino gambling spread in the state, Caputo challenged Atlantic City casinos saying they are looking for a bailout.

“No one here wants to do any damage to Atlantic City,” Caputo said. “We don’t want to destroy an industry. They can do that themselves. They don’t need your help or my help.

“They don’t give one damn about anything but themselves,” he said. “All they did was take money from that city. Now that the market is challenged, it’s up to us to try to assist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at it honestly.”

Christie’s Atlantic City plan included creation of a tourism district in Atlantic City that was designed to increase safety and cleanliness in the city. Casino regulations were also relaxed and a casino-funded $30 million annual marketing program was launched.

Under Caputo’s proposal, a 13-member panel would evaluate how well those reforms are working in Atlantic City. It would also consider the future prospect of a casino in Bergen County and issue a report within a year.

Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, whose district includes Atlantic City, opposed creating the panel.

“When the tourism district was created, both the Legislature and the governor made a solemn commitment to Atlantic City,” he said. “To go back on your word to the people of Atlantic County before the five-year waiting period ends is wrong. I intend to make sure that Atlantic City gets what this Legislature promised it—the time and money needed to help restore the city to the tourism and gaming destination that it once was. We can get there, but we must give our efforts a chance to succeed.”

Caputo said he believes the Atlantic City reform plan isn’t working.

“On the surface it doesn’t look like it,” he said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say Atlantic City is going to be fine. Atlantic City is not going to be fine. It’s not going to come back to its original form.”

The bill now goes to the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee. A similar bill passed the Assembly last year, but died without being considered in the state Senate.