Today New Jersey legislators will revive their efforts to expand casino gambling to North Jersey. To date, much of the Trenton discussion on this issue has been bogged down in regional turf wars over minor (though not unimportant) details. Yet this narrow focus misses the forest for the trees by assuming that North Jersey casinos are a foregone conclusion and, more importantly, assuming that expanding casino gambling is in New Jersey’s best interest.
Throughout the Garden State’s history, gambling’s economic benefits have proven to be exaggerated: internet gambling, Sunday horse-racing, outsourcing the state lottery to a private vendor – all were sold on a promise of higher revenue for the state. Over the long run, all have failed to deliver. This casino expansion is no different.
“The casino expansion push is based on several assumptions: that opening two new casinos in the state will intercept revenue that is now being lost to neighboring states, that a percentage of the casino revenue would help to revive Atlantic City and that casinos will bring hundreds of millions of pain-free revenues to a state sorely in need of money to pay for critical services,” says Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “All of these assumptions are highly questionable.”
And the timing couldn’t be worse. Whether or not gambling expands outside of Atlantic City, the fate of gambling in New Jersey has in many ways already been decided. The industry as a whole is on its way out. Casinos are no longer the draw they once were in a market that has already reached its saturation point. Even industry experts agree that building more casinos is not a sustainable answer to the state’s economic problems, let alone a salve for Atlantic City’s woes. This is a fact that is being roundly ignored by a legislature seemingly hell-bent set on expanding casino gambling.
In legislative leaders’ rush to get this on the 2016 ballot, they are showing once again their preference for politically painless short-term “fixes” for New Jersey’s economy. In doing so, they have shoved aside obvious, common-sense questions that deserve answers before this moves any further.
* Would North Jersey’s two proposed casinos do much more than cannibalize Atlantic City’s declining customer base?
* What tax rate will these new casinos pay, and where will that money go?
* Speaking of, how does funneling a share of tax revenue to Atlantic City – revenue that won’t likely be realized until the end of this decade – forestall the city’s economic decline?
* How will New Jersey and local communities pay for the infrastructure upgrades and increased public services these new casinos will require?
“I have three simple words for the legislature and other casino expansion proponents today: ‘slow down, please,’” says NJPP president Gordon MacInnes. “Given New Jersey’s dicey history with legalized gambling, the enormous changes in the gaming marketplace and a list of obvious, unaddressed questions, please stop the mad dash to put this on November’s ballot. To do otherwise would be imprudent, unwise and reckless.”