Christie to Sign Atlantic City Rescue Package

Gov. Chris Christie said Monday night he will sign an Atlantic City rescue package on Tuesday morning to help save the nation's second-largest gambling market from its four-year decline.

The governor plans to sign bills creating a state-supervised  tourism district with enhanced police patrols and sanitation, and a multi-million dollar industry-funded marketing campaign to promote
 the resort. He also will sign a bill to relieve the city's 11 casinos of some regulations.

The bills are designed to help Atlantic City recover some of the market share and revenue it has been steadily losing since late 2006 when the first of many neighboring slots parlors opened in the
 Philadelphia suburbs. Since then, Atlantic City has lost nearly a third of its business, plunging from $5.2 billion in casino revenue in 2006 to $3.6 billion last year.

Several casino executives contacted Monday night declined comment, saying they did not want to upstage the governor. But the industry has supported the measures.

Word that Christie plans to sign the package came on the same day he signed two bills into law expanding the options for horse racing bets in the Garden State.

One sets up exchange wagering, a form of betting popular in Europe in which two or more people place directly opposing wagers on the outcome of a horse race. Exchange wagering allows a bettor to wager on a selected outcome occurring, and another bettor to wager on that same outcome not occurring.

Another bill allows tracks to provide for a single pool for each running or harness horse race. These larger pools would be capable of handling a greater variety of wagers than current pools.

Christie said the bills will help ensure ``a strong, independent, self-sufficient horse racing industry in New Jersey.''

``We are providing new tools to help the industry implement new strategies, generate additional revenue and capitalize on interest in horse racing around the state,'' the governor said. ``Along with
 our ongoing efforts to transform racing at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park through private management, these measures will place horse racing on a path to economic stability and sustainability without public subsidy that New Jersey taxpayers can simply no longer afford.''

The bills were part of the legislative give-and-take over how much state help should go to New Jersey's casino and horse racing industries, which have long fought each other for gambling dollars and market share.

Deputy Assembly Speaker John Burzichelli called exchange wagering a way to help the struggling industry compete with other states.

``This is simply another option and another way to build interest in the races, which can only help the industry as we move forward with a more modern racing model for our state,'' he said.

Once the outcome of the race is determined, funds will be transferred from the exchange wagering account of the bettor who lost the wager to that of the bettor who won the wager. Transaction
 or other fees will be deducted by the track.

New Jersey will be the second state in the nation, along with California, to offer exchange wagering.

Christie conditionally vetoed a bill revamping the state's off-track betting operation, saying he supports the concept, but wants greater flexibility in determining the locations of new off-track betting parlors. He also said he wants to eliminate a 1percent fee the parlors would pay to their host municipalities.

The governor began dealing with both industries at the same time last July when he endorsed the recommendations of a panel he had created to study the future of casinos and race tracks in New
 Jersey. The governor called for ending state subsidies to racetracks, and refused to allow them to install slot machines like those at so-called ``racinos'' in neighboring states.

But when the industry protested, legislators representing horse breeding and racing areas soon added sweeteners to the deal, including the bills signed into law Monday by Christie.

On Monday night, Christie vetoed the minutes of a key meeting of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, which he wants to abolish. The governor rejected the minutes of the agency's Dec. 15 meeting, at which it adopted its 2011 budget, an operations plan, and a marketing budget, among other things. The veto effectively undoes all of those actions.

One of the bills on Christie's desk would fold the agency into the new tourism district, which would be overseen by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. But the governor has said repeatedly he wants to eliminate the convention agency, calling it inefficient and wasteful.

In his veto message, Christie said he was acting out of ``my desire not to foreclose any options.''

Jeff Vasser, the agency's executive director, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.


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