New Jersey Rolls the Dice on Casinos and Horse Racing

By Brian Thompson
|  Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010  |  Updated 5:01 PM EDT
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New Jersey Rolls the Dice on Casinos and Horse Racing

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Gov. Christie is spinning the wheel...

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is planning a state takeover of the Casino District in Atlantic City: lock, stock and slot machine.

While the Casinos there won't actually be run by the State, Christie announced a plan that would create a city within a city, and elbow Atlantic City out of the business of providing municipal services such as police, street sweeping and just as importantly, marketing.

"We cannot afford to let Atlantic City go under," the Governor said at a news conference at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford in announcing a host of gaming changes he wants to make for the state.

Even a former Atlantic City Mayor, now State Senator James Whelan, agreed.

 "The numbers speak for themselves," he told NBCPhiladelphia. "We're down over 25 per cent over the last two years and I hear some people in town say 'well, don't panic.' Well, when do we panic? At what point do we panic?"

At the same time, Christie said he wanted to get the state out of the horse racing business which would have dire consequences according to Anthony Perretti of Perretti Farms in Upper Freehold, NJ.

The Governor's plan to end subsidies to the horse racing industry and either close the standard bred harness racing track in the Meadowlands, or lease it to the horsemen themselves, would spell the industry's "death knell," according to Perretti.

"We cannot competitively function in this state without a proper racing program," Perretti told NBCNewYork, and he added Perretti Farms, with its 25 full time jobs, "shuts down--guaranteed."

There is more bad news for the racing industry.

Governor Christie made clear he is ready to let the casino industry walk away from its $30 million a year subsidy of racing purses that state officials have all but required in past years in order to keep the tracks afloat.

"Absent significant changes in the way Atlantic City is governed and run we can no longer ask an industry in decline (casinos) to support an industry that's also in decline (horse racing).

"At the simulcast facility at the Meadowlands, occasional gambler Ken Treitler looked up from his racing forms to disapprove of the Governor's intent to either sell off or close the track because the subsidies cost the state millions too much.

"The Governor says we're subsidizing a lot of things like teachers, firemen, police and I don't agree with him on any of that," said Treitler.

However, he admitted attendance is not what it should be and "I think something needs to be done."

But in order to further protect what is left in Atlantic City, Governor Christie said he will not approve of video slot machines that could help save the Meadowlands track, as many North Jersey legislators have been asking for in recent years.

The slots installed at the Yonkers Raceway across the river in New York are generally credited with helping save that track, which is also a harness racing facility (those slots are also believed to have been a contributing factor in the decline of Atlantic City's casinos).

And then there's Xanadu.

The $2 billion, all-but-completed entertainment and shopping "experience" with its own indoor ski slope sits like a white elephant next to the New Jersey Turnpike on the edge of the Meadowlands complex.

And it's what Christie called his "Number One problem."

"You have essentially two choices that you're confronted with now," said the Governor, "make it work or tear it down."

Christie said he would prefer to make it work, adding he would be willing to pledge some of the sales tax receipts that come to the state once it opens as a sort of subsidy to whatever developer takes it over.

Christie, a Republican, insisted the state would have to get an ownership position in Xanadu.

"We have to become owners," the Governor said.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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