Atlantic City Is Key To New Jersey’s Comeback

By Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris A. Brown
(New Jersey Legislative District 2, parts of Atlantic County)

Supporters of a Meadowlands casino have been pushing for weeks about how casino gaming is a dying industry and New Jersey can’t compete against other states. Both statements are untrue, but the conclusion that building a casino at the Meadowlands will somehow solve that problem is just wrong. Let’s be truthful. This isn’t about furious out-of-state competition or a stricken economy. Horse racing advocates want a casino in the Meadowlands because racetracks are dying a slow death and casinos are profitable. Speaking recently was a former chairman of the Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park Racetracks. In the Assembly, the sponsor of the legislation to make way for Meadowlands gaming has long supported racing. They want to prop up horse racing purses because track attendance has fallen by 36 percent and profits have been cut in half over the last five years. Risking Atlantic City’s $3.8 billion successful gaming industry to help boost horse racing would make even the most desperate gambler fold. Horse racing struggled to net only $118 million last year, even with $170 million in purse subsidies since 2004. It’s crazy and shortsighted. Unlike horse racing, Atlantic City is not losing customers. Out-of-state competition only split gamers’ time between Atlantic City and other states. Studies also show they are significantly more satisfied with their experience in Atlantic City than in Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York. When the industry rebounds – and it will – these new competitors will be the ones in trouble.

The plan to reinvent Atlantic City, put into place by Governor Christie and the Legislature, is a game-changer. Instead of dividing up the market further like Meadowlands supporters propose, our strategy is to get gamers to spend more, by offering more than gambling, and attract new audiences. With a beach, boardwalk, fine dining, vibrant nightclubs and A- list

entertainment, the real question is, “How can any place really compete with Atlantic City?” The new AC Tourism District has already piqued interest and investment. The $2.4 billion mega-resort Revel just recently opened and The Golden Nugget spent $150 million in upgrades. Borgata invested another $50 million to remodel their hotel rooms while Resorts and The Atlantic Club are also rebranding. This brings a new energy and excitement which should help ensure the future success of Atlantic City and our state. And the Atlantic City comeback has already begun. Just look at the most recent numbers for March: convention bookings, booked room nights, passenger car visits and ove rnight bus passengers are all up from a year ago. More people are visiting the welcome centers and going to the website to plan their trips to Atlantic City. These trends started before the new Revel opened. We’re encouraging visitors – both new and those who haven’t come in years – to come and play in Atlantic City because this is not your grandfathers’ or even your fathers’ resort anymore. With nearly $4 billion worth of potential customer spending identified by marketing analysts, we are spending $20 million this year and $30 million next year in full-press advertising campaign to rebrand and erase many of the pre-2003 perceptions of the old Atlantic City. It’s become a world-class destination on the cutting edge in dining, retail and entertainment.

We can’t let politics stand in the way of our state’s continued economic expansion. Atlantic City is responsible for producing $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue of which $250 million directly benefits seniors and the disabled. That’s far more than horse racing’s total revenues in a year. Stud ies also show that a Meadowlands casino would destroy far more jobs in Atlantic City than it would provide for North Jersey. So those who would put their narrow interests ahead of the entire state are not only wrong, but counterproductive to our efforts to create more jobs. They should stop retreating to the mistakes of the past and help us get New Jersey back to work. We don’t mind horse racing or the Meadowlands supporters looking for ways to help their industry. Heck, we are willing to help them. But with changing perceptions and wider ranging reasons for visiting the resort, knocking Atlantic City is not the way to get that done.

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