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Progress for Atlantic City Sports Betting

Latest News Regarding the Push for adding Sports Betting in New Jersey and Atlantic City!

Governor Chris Chritie charges panel with making sports betting and casino profits sure bets again in the Garden State.
Originally written by Andrew Kitchenman on 2/19/2010

The future of Atlantic City, the Meadowlands and New Jersey’s horseracing and gaming industries could be determined by a new commission advising Gov. Chris Christie, and business owners are eager to have their voices heard.

Business leaders and lobbyists said they agreed with Christie that these interconnected industries deserve his attention, and that the state has allowed problems to stagnate.

The panel has been given a broad mandate to explore potential solutions and report back to Christie by June 30. The range of issues it will consider includes the future of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority; how to revive Atlantic City’s economy; whether to reduce the number of horse racetracks and expand gaming to the tracks; and the future of the Xanadu project in the Meadowlands.

The horse industry is keenly tracking Christie’s approach. Michael Campbell, executive director of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey, said it is important for the panel to hear from the farmers and horse owners who are the backbone of the horse-racing industry in the state.

“There’s a lot that goes into those horses,” Campbell said, noting that feed suppliers, veterinarians and others both support and depend on the industry.

Campbell had a mixed reaction to two reports from Christie’s transition team. The subcommittee on gaming, sports and entertainment raised the possibility of limiting the number of thoroughbred racing dates, which Campbell said would destroy the industry. But the report on agriculture discussed adding slot machines at the racetracks, a strategy supported by the industry.

Breeders Association lobbyist Barbara DeMarco said the state saves money by having horse farm owners keep farms undeveloped.

“Keep in mind, a horse farm is a business,” DeMarco said.

One region with a major stake in what the commission recommends is the Meadowlands. Nearly 40 percent of the 800 members of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce depend on “destination” visitors for their business, including restaurants, hotels and stores, according to Jim Kirkos, chamber chief executive officer.

Kirkos said he was pleased Christie decided to address the issues early in his term. He praised Christie’s pick of Jon F. Hanson, a former SEA board president, to lead the commission.

“For too long, we’ve allowed these issues to fester,” Kirkos said.

Like the horse breeders, Kirkos sees expansion of gaming at racetracks as worth exploring. He doesn’t see why slot machines at New Jersey’s tracks could be a threat to Atlantic City hotels, when there already are slots in neighboring states.

“For us this is a big issue, because the Meadowlands Sports Complex drove the economy for 25 years,” Kirkos said, adding that the commission should look to see that all four components of the complex — the new stadium replacing Giants Stadium, the Izod Center, Meadowlands Racetrack and Xanadu — are successful.

But the casinos aren’t likely to see it that way, at least according to one industry tracker. The increasing competition from out of state hasn’t done Atlantic City any favors, said Cory Morowitz, chairman and managing member of Morowitz Gaming Advisors, in Galloway; it’s unlikely that additional competition from within the state would win them over. “It’s a guarantee that slot machines wagering elsewhere in the state has a negative impact on Atlantic City,” Morowitz said. He pointed to Atlantic City’s casinos losing a quarter of their revenue in recent years to Pennsylvania’s slot parlors as an example.

The SEA is prohibited from running slot parlors or lobbying for them under an agreement with Atlantic City’s casinos, according to spokesman John Samerjan. For the past five years, the casinos have contributed $30 million annually to Meadowlands Racetracks’ purses.

The latest agreement ends this year, but Samerjan didn’t want to speculate on whether the SEA may reconsider slot parlors. “We would defer to the governor’s task force on the matter,” he said.

Still, the casinos are eager to work with Christie to find a solution to the state’s gaming woes, according to Joseph A. Corbo Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

The Xanadu megamall remains a wildcard in the Meadowlands Sports Complex and in the commission’s deliberation. A state official has spoken with New York developer Stephen M. Ross about his potential involvement in the long-stalled project. Christie said it is important that the tract is developed, calling it one of the state’s most valuable pieces of real estate.

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