I gotta give the Christie Administration a little credit here. They have been awfully tight-lipped about which way the guv is leaning when it comes to gaming.
That is perhaps because he has not yet made up his mind. And as we know, it’s a very tricky issue to wade into…even for a Governor who has vowed to take on the state’s most vexing problems. Here is what I have been able to piece together through several conversations with various interest holders.
Let me begin by saying that having spent 10 years in the Newark bureau for NJN News, I have probably done more stories on the Sports and Exposition Authority than anyone in the history of television news. Naturally, the guys up there favor the introduction of VLT’s and slots to compliment and possibly even subsidize horse racing. One doesn’t need a PHD in the obvious to conclude – like the transition reports do – that the “model for horse racing is broken.”
The state subsidizes the purses because they are legislatively required to do so…but that amounts to a multi-million loss for the NJSEA each year.
With news that Related Companies may be interested in rescuing Xanadu I was trying to determine if a new developer’s agreement would include provisions for scooping up gambling proceeds at the Meadowlands. Turns out, it doesn’t have to. Under the terms of the previous agreement between NJSEA and Colony there is a right of first refusal for the investors when it comes to opening a “racino.” In other words, if slots or even table games were ever greenlit at the Meadowlands, whoever runs Xanadu gets first crack at building the hotel that would house them. That language would stay in any new agreement signed by Related.
So would that make sense for NJ? Well, the folks I talked to who represent AC don’t think so. In fact, they are going to go ballistic of Christie signs off on racinos. One person even claims the guv signed a pledge that he would never approve gambling outside AC.
But someone also described it this way, “the moat around AC has not worked.” The popular money is on Christie using the threat of opening up racinos in East Rutherford and Monmouth Park to force major reforms in Atlantic City. Someone from AC described their city as “too many separate fiefdoms” that don’t work together for the greater good. Having a government plagued with legal problems certainly has not helped. And the streets away from the boardwalk can still sometimes be a tad scary.
So, by appointing an advisory commission Christie has bought himself a few months to consider the competing options. Hopefully this isn’t just another excuse to punt as the previous regime’s commission on horse racing sometimes appeared to be doing.