The Myth of Chris Christie

The deification of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is under way in the sports betting world. But industry observer Richard Schuetz isn’t a fan. He explains how Christie stumbled into the sports betting arena and why he may not deserve the accolades showered upon him.

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The Myth of Chris Christie

For the 2019 edition of G2E, it appears the leadership of that group felt it could enhance the event’s mission by inviting a man to speak who ended his tenure as the least popular governor in New Jersey’s history, and one of the least popular in the history of the United States.

Moreover, within the last year this same gentleman was inducted into a sports betting hall of fame by a UK-based organization holding its first large for-profit conference in the U.S. I would guess the only way these two organizations could outdo themselves next year would be to have Stormy Daniels replace Chris Christie. That would, in my opinion, be totally consistent with what they appear to have been trying to accomplish.

Obviously, I am not a Chris Christie fan, and it appears there are a number of people in my camp. Google “Christie idiot,” and you’ll find more than 3.6 million results. His statistics as a gaming guru seem to be in question as well, for during his tenure as governor in New Jersey from 2010 to 2018, gross gaming revenues declined from $3.6 billion to $2.9 billion, and a number of firms left the market.

I believe this statistical reality was terribly important to Chris Christie, not because he cared about his state, but because he was running for president and didn’t want to run with his state showing economic troubles. I believe that because of his obsessive desire to be president, Christie would have embraced essentially anything that might have improved his chances, and sports betting was one of these things—and he was only for it after he was against it.

In my opinion, when Chris Christie was inducted by a foreign company’s hall of fame, it had everything to do with generating publicity and little to do with the historical reality of betting in the U.S. In short, it was all about marketing. Betting had been legal and offered in Nevada casinos since 1974, yet two of the three inaugural members from the U.S. in the hall of fame were from New Jersey, with one being Christie. The Nevada inductee had spent many decades in the business and was well known and well respected. He had walked the walk for many, many years. And Ray Lesniak, who in my opinion should have been the first person from New Jersey to enter this hall, does speak well of the other person from New Jersey who was also inducted.

But Christie? This seemed comparable to having a Baseball Hall of Fame without Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and some of the other greats, and instead having a guy who just happened to be hanging around a team and opted to take credit for something good that happened.

I considered whether I may have missed the point on Mr. Christie. Maybe the extraordinary fact that six separate New Jersey newspapers joined together to draft and publish an editorial stating, “We’re fed up with Governor Chris Christie’s arrogance, we’re fed up with his opportunism, we’re fed up with his hypocrisy,” had influenced my perceptions of the man. Maybe it was the brilliant photograph of him stress-testing a beach chair when he shut the public beaches in New Jersey (to everyone except to his friends and family) that soured me on the man. Or maybe it was the fact that, as governor of the state, key members of his administration went to jail for blocking traffic to a city that had pissed Mr. Christie off, risking the lives of its citizens through the disruption of emergency services in and around the enormous traffic jam that was created. Oh, and he claims he had no idea.

All these things might have potentially turned me to the negative on Christie, leading me to agree with President Trump who, in spite of all of Christie’s fawning adoration, just did not want him around his cabinet and has worked to humiliate him on numerous occasions.

In order to further my understanding of Mr. Christie, I thought I would take a step that came with a certain cost and that was buying his book titled Let Me Finish. Reading through this tome was clearly a commitment to this article. Quite frankly, given the choice of reading through this book again or and having my eyelids pierced with a hole punch, I may take the latter.

This book is more than 430 pages long. It starts with his childhood. And reading it is torture. Of great interest to me is the fact that throughout this book, Christie does not even mention sports betting. Now think that over: a hall of fame member in sports betting, a keynote speaker on sports betting at a major U.S. gaming conference, doesn’t even mention the topic in a 430-page book he wrote about his life—and I mean not one word. Not a whisper. Let that sink in, and do not suggest that he is either humble or shy. Christie is a braggadocio on steroids.

I then thought I should read Senator Ray Lesniak’s book. He was nice enough to send along a copy (after I paid for it) and even included a free plastic pen. In Lesniak’s book, it appears he was a critical force in the effort to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), as well as mentioning that Christie was sometimes in the way of that effort. One cannot read Lesniak’s book, and the many articles surrounding the efforts to advance sports betting in New Jersey, without understanding that he was the person in government who truly led the charge and truly made a difference. I guess Lesniak, in spite of the reality of his involvement, didn’t make the hall because he couldn’t command the attention of the press that Christie commands, and that seems a distorted criterion for entrance into a hall of fame.

From all appearances, Chris Christie has never met a microphone he didn’t like, and the fact that his role in sports betting was limited, fake news, or total nonsense is irrelevant. He’s a clown car with respect to attracting attention, and attention is often what it’s all about. It seems to be his new profession.

I kind of get why G2E might have wanted Christie to speak. First of all, as mentioned, the man does attract attention, and I suspect that’s important. Furthermore, Christie’s remarks were in some ways consistent with those of the past American Gaming Association leadership. Geoff Freeman, former head of the AGA, who was for iGaming before Sheldon Adelson suggested he was not for it, and who was an expert on travel before he became an expert on gaming and who is now an apparent expert on groceries, often mentioned with disdain those states that practiced “tax and torture,” the most obvious culprit being Pennsylvania. Christie was willing to take that to the next level and refer to Pennsylvania as a “rolling dumpster fire,” immediately starting a response on Twitter about the brilliance of G2E bringing to the conference a man who was truly experienced in rolling dumpster fires.

Moreover, it does seem that both the AGA and Christie don’t believe that states really have the right to govern themselves and need to be shamed for their taxing decisions, which is arguably an odd position for a former state governor. I get why the AGA thinks low taxes are important. One, it allows more money left over for the gambling companies, and God knows poor Sheldon is down to his last $35 billion. Secondly, it does curtail illegal and/or unregulated gaming. There’s more to the story, however.

Nevada has the lowest gaming tax rate in the nation. Its education system, as evaluated by one of the most respected entities in the U.S. at this sort of thing, has ranked Nevada 51 of all of the states and the District of Columbia in 2018, making it the second year in a row that Nevada’s education system has been afforded this dead-last honor. The AGA and Christie seem to neglect that low gaming tax rates may have other implications, and it seems that they believe that eliminating illegal gambling is more important than having quality government services. It appears they don’t worry that a school system like Nevada’s will potentially leave the children in the state unable to make money. But that may not be a problem, for the education system in Nevada may not have prepared the children in the state to be able to count it.

There are differences between the AGA and Christie, however. The past leadership of the AGA blamed New Jersey regulators for many of the problems with the industry in the state, and Christie has never gone there. Moreover, Christie, who claims the New Jersey system is the best, must therefore believe that betting on colleges and universities should be left up to the mob, the local bookies and the offshore operators. If the New Jersey system is best, as Christie claims, he must also believe that the New Jersey model of having the casinos where the people aren’t is brilliant. That’s nonsense. At least Pennsylvania knew to spread casinos about the state to where people actually are.

I would guess that the many Twitter pundits who continually reflect brilliance on all things gambling appreciated Christie’s slam, for it distracts from their continually terrible predictions about what will happen in Pennsylvania. This group of rocket scientists have shown an ability to predict outcomes in Pennsylvania that are only challenged by Vegas Dave in picking winners, led by the notion that no one would pay the high fee to secure an opportunity to offer sports betting in the state. This brain trust could not have been more wrong.

I would also hope G2E would explain who benefits when a past governor of New Jersey can stand in front of a crowd that includes regulators from Pennsylvania and tries to humiliate them with what became the most noteworthy tag line of the conference. Who does this benefit? And get real, G2E, this is the type of thing that Christie now does in his search for relevance, so it could not have been a surprise.

Is this the type of thing that G2E wants to encourage to create good relationships with the different states involved in gaming? Is using your platform for public shaming the new G2E? One would think that Governor Wolf would want to make an effort to explain to the world that Chris Christie does not speak for the current administration in the state, nor its regulators and disavow such a comment. If for no other reason, it may be the case that New Jersey may have a pane or two of glass in their own houses.

The foreign company that picked Christie as a member of its hall of fame, in conjunction with its first big conference in the U.S., is more troubling. I get that halls of fame can be curious, noting that the AGA’s hall of fame has among its members several who have paid huge sums of money to women that claim they have been raped, assaulted or involved in inappropriate affairs with the hall members. One would think this may be disqualifying, but expect the AGA to continue to list these men as honored members of that organization’s hall.

I joined the industry in 1972 while a college student, and I studied its history exhaustively for a number of years in conjunction with a Ph.D. dissertation in economics. I’ve also been in the industry for the last five decades, and involved in the industry as a regulator, operator, and academician in many locations around the world. The point is, I think it’s important to understand the history of the industry, for to understand the history is to help the industry move forward, for those who do not understand the industry will be, as it is often suggested, forced to relive the mistakes. I also think it is important to acknowledge those people who made a true difference in the industry. These people should be rightfully honored.

There are some giants in sports betting in the United States both alive and dead including Bob Martin, Gene Mayday, Billy Walters, Roxy Roxborough, Charles McNeil, Leo Hirschfield, Vic Salerno, Jimmy Vaccaro, and many, many others. I feel these people have been insulted by the belief that Chris Christie made some hall of fame in betting before they did. I think it’s a travesty, because a foreign entity wanted to generate some buzz around the show and not make a serious attempt to recognize who is who in U.S. betting.

As I suggested, maybe next year they can induct Stormy Daniels. That should really increase exposure to the show they’re offering.

I remember attending some of the precursor shows to G2E in Las Vegas back in late 1970s and the early 1980s. They were small and quite funny. There would be a talk scheduled about efficient casino marketing, and some dude would show up with some slot coin buckets and give prices to have a logo printed on them. Such talks were, for all practical purposes, a sham. I thought of those days when I came to understand that someone thought Chris Christie could contribute to a discussion about sports betting.

I hear he filled seats, and I am sure that Stormy Daniels will too.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.