A plan from the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Gaming would leave the state running Atlantic City's' casino district.
On a sizzling hot Boardwalk Wednesday, packed with politicians, business leaders and city officials, all wondering if the state was about to make itself the principal authority in Atlantic City, Governor Chris Christie did his best to say that the state was here to help, not take over.
“I’m here to extend the hand of partnership to the city,” Christie said during a press conference at Kennedy Plaza. “We are entering into this public/private partnership because we have to remake ourselves. We want to make Atlantic City a place where families and businesses want to be and want to come back to again and again.”
Christie, Wednesday, released a report from the Governor’s Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment, a commission formed to study the state of New Jersey’s gaming industry, including racetracks and the future of Atlantic City. The report’s recommendations call for a sweeping overhaul of the running of the Meadowlands and racecourses in the state and calls for the state to directly takeover the running of Atlantic City’s casino and entertainment districts. The state would be the driving force behind everything from day-to-day community services in the district to marketing the resort as a whole.
But Christie refused to characterize such a takeover as the creation of a “city within a city.”
"I don’t see it that way,” he said. “We are ready to work with the city and city departments and we’re ready to work with private industry. We’re ready to work with local officials. We will work with anyone to help get Atlantic City where it needs to be.”
Christie pointed out that the state’s involvement would be very different than in a city like Camden, which was completely run by the state for several years.
"There is no comparison of the two,” he said. “Camden was a city reeling from decades of mismanagement. Atlantic City is in crisis situation brought on by the economic realities of the last few years.”
Despite the assurance, the commission’s report is highly critical of the city government and how the city is run. But Christie’s olive-branch approach, at least seems to have local officials ready to hear out the details of the plan.
“I have still yet to review the whole report, But I’ve said all along that we are all in this together,” said city Mayor Lorenzo Langford after the press conference. “We have always needed to get all our oars in the water and rowing in the same direction … we’ll take help from anyone who wants to help. We need as much help as we can get.”
Christie acknowledged that the city has been severely hurt in the last three years by the economic recession and the spread of casinos to Pennsylvania, Delaware and other nearby markets.
“We have reached a point where we can no longer sit back and do nothing,” Christie said. “Some people will say this plan is too bold and aggressive. But I’m not going to partner with a failure. This is about a partnership that leads to success.”
The possibility of the state taking a greater roll in the day-to-day operations of Atlantic City has come up in the past, especially during the '90s. Often, local officials have passionately opposed the idea.
But within Christie’s and the commission’s reports are several things local officials and casino executives have been supporting for years.
For example, the report clearly comes out against allowing gaming to spread to other jurisdictions in the state, including video lottery machines and slots at the Meadowlands.
“I said when I was campaigning I would not support expansion of gambling beyond Atlantic City,” Christie said. “That shouldn’t surprise anyone.”
The report also recommends using all Casino Reinvestment Development Authority revenues within Atlantic City, rather than throughout the state, and stopping the city casino supported subsidy to racetracks, both issues casino proponents have long fought for.
Most importantly, says Christie, the recommendations call for a simplifying of casino regulations to bring them more into the modern era, another move long supported by casinos.
The plan would also fold state agencies such as the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority into the new governing agency, which would push for better marketing of the city.
However, the least detailed part of the plan calls for the state to visibly improve cleanliness and safety in the city and on the Boardwalk by July 1, 2011.
“The perception is that the city is not safe,” Christie said. “Whether that is true or not, the perception can sometimes become the reality. By next summer, I want to be here on this boardwalk and see new families and visitors enjoying this city.”
Despite the far-ranging range of the plan, which would also have a profound impact on The Meadowlands Sports Complex and horse racing, it is at this stage, just a proposal. Most of the recommendations will need legislative approval, often a lengthy process.
“I don’t think at this point, it’s really about being opposed to it or being against it,” said State Senator James Whelan. “We have to see the details. But I think we can all agree that we can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
And that was Christie’s main point. Atlantic City can no longer wait for things to happen. It has to drive its own future.
And Gov. Christie wants to be behind the wheel.
What do you think about the governor's proposal? Leave a comment below.
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