Monday, November 7, 2016

Trenton Screws Up, Yet Again, on Casino Bill

A few friends and family have asked, so here goes.

My vote on Public Question #1 is a resounding "No", with advice to the State Legislature, especially South Jersey politicians to go back to the drawing board and get your head out of the 1970s.

After 40+ years of abominable mismanagement of casino gaming in Atlantic City, including Governor Christie's stupid backing with tax incentives of completion of the Revel, the state wants us to support an ill-drawn plan that would put a multistory casino in Jersey City, another 10 miles away at the Meadowlands, and again screw the state's thoroughbred program and Monmouth Park.

Rightfully, Oceanport's leaders have called this out. The bill's logic is so flawed and has far more question marks than answers, typical of NJ politics where it's "vote yes now with 10% of the details and transparency and we'll figure it out later...once our friends get paid."

What NJ needs, and what many voters would support, simply, are smaller "neighborhood" casinos at Monmouth Park and the Big M that daytrippers will use and that will steal business back from nearby racinos in New York (Yonkers, Aqueduct) and Pennsylvania, where PARX (Philadelphia) is physically closer to A.C. than Monmouth Park.

Only in NJ would legislators back a bill that spitefully excludes Oceanport as a potential site. That's because, by this bill, a new casino has to be, specifically, 72 miles outside of A.C.

Guess how far Monmouth is from there?!

That's right.

I was in A.C. two weeks ago, solely for a convention. It's clear that after 40 years of failure, in a dire market with an outdated business model and looking to take the state's racing industry down with it, the Vegas by the Shore theme is a misnomer. It's a convention city with a gambling side business and has never evolved. If they'd had any sense, they would have backed expanding the NJ market and cross promoting itself through partners at Monmouth and the Meadowlands, but that hasn't happened. Instead, much as they got buddy Chris Christie to strip the tracks of millions of dollars of annual profit-sharing (so they wouldn't put casinos at the tracks), they view A.C. in a bubble. They're instead learning that the ends of monopolies can be a bitch.

At the same time, anyone who went to Monmouth this summer knows it's struggling, at least in part by Trenton's doing. The horsemen get blame too for failing for years (a fault of the ENTIRE racing industry) to ever really cultivate new racing customers. The scraps they'd get from a "Yes" vote on Tuesday, to me, seem to leave it shortchanged, no matter Monday's backroom, last-minute deal for the Big M's operator to give the thoroughbred interests a bigger cut...IF...he gets a casino.

And, at that, I'd rather not see a Jersey City casino cannibalize one at the Meadowlands or turn the City into A.C. North with a vacant 40-story tower after money disappears with all sorts of graft, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

If Trenton gets it's act together and tells the A.C. lobby to shut up (after four decades they've learned little), legislators can then come back with a workable plan in a year or two that both the thoroughbred and standardbred operators want and that could prop up the state's breeding and racing program, via Station Casinos-style racinos found in our neighboring states.

I'd rather take my chances, too, were I operating a track, seeing what shakes out with the Oakland Raiders' potential move to Las Vegas. If that happens, the NFL would have zero leg to stand on in opposing sports betting in NJ, which is something we all want and I posit could happen sooner than any revenue benefit from two No. Jersey casinos. Sports betting would be a boon to the tracks AND A.C.

It's a "NO" vote for me on Tuesday and may -- much as NY and PA racino operators funded the no-casino TV and radio ads in NJ the last several months -- be time for A.C. and the horsemen to pool some money together to silently fund ads pushing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

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