Lawmakers Call For Gaming Summit To Find ‘Global Solution’ For State’s Troubled Industry

Would Work Towards Constitutional Amendment to Maximize Revenues from All Gaming Sources, Ensure Reinvestment in Atlantic City, Tourism

TRENTON – A group of Senate and Assembly leaders today called for a “gaming summit” to craft a constitutional amendment that would include comprehensive solutions for maximizing revenues to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s struggling gaming and entertainment industries.

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, Senators Raymond J. Lesniak, Jim Whelan and Jeff Van Drew, and Assemblyman John Burzichelli said the effort would bring together lawmakers, industry leaders and policy experts.

“The last thing New Jersey needs is to see its gaming and entertainment industries wither and die,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “Billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs literally are on the line. We have to get to work and put together a realistic and viable plan.”

“Revenues from sports betting and Internet gaming have to be maximized and utilized to make Atlantic City a resort destination, not just a casino attraction, and take advantage of lucrative markets being taken away by New York, Pennsylvania, Las Vegas and off-shore internet gaming sites,” said Lesniak (D-Union), a long-time champion of the state’s gaming industry. “Atlantic City is dying. The Meadowlands is dying. Our racetracks are dying. We have time to get this right and craft a constitutional amendment that will maximize revenues for the state and for our tourist destinations.”

Lesniak said that in order to focus on the comprehensive effort, he will hold his current constitutional amendment (SCR-49) to allow for consideration of a broader constitutional amendment by the gaming summit to be placed on the ballot this November.

The lawmakers said absent such a solution, New Jersey will continue to lose revenues to out-of-state casino competition and attendance at the state’s three horse-racing venues will continue to stagnate.

“Atlantic City has been battered by the twin winds of aggressive out-of-state competition and the recent global recession,” said Whelan (D-Atlantic), chairman of the Senate’s gaming oversight panel and a former mayor of Atlantic City. “We need to inject new life into the resort and reassert its predominance on the East Coast’s gaming landscape. Every day we wait is another opportunity for growth lost.”

“Casinos and racetracks are more than just places to spend a day and wager a few bucks – they are major employers,” said Van Drew (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “Fixing what’s wrong with New Jersey’s gaming industry isn’t just about bringing in more revenues. It’s also about ensuring secure jobs for thousands of New Jerseyans and protecting the quality of life for entire communities.”

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, said his panel would stand ready to ensure passage of a constitutional amendment.

“We have been working hard over the past couple years to remove the regulatory roadblocks that were choking our gaming industries,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester). “But tackling one issue here and another there is no longer enough. We need a comprehensive solution. Ensuring a bright future for our state’s gaming industry is something that can’t wait until next year – because by next year there may not be an industry left to protect.”

“Right now, all the interests are at each other’s throats while their respective industries are dying a slow death,” said Lesniak. “They don’t realize, or don’t want to realize, they’re killing each other. It’s time for the Legislature and the Governor to adopt a policy based on maximizing revenues from gaming and saving our dying tourist attractions.”

The call comes two weeks before the reporting deadline for a gubernatorial commission charged with seeking ways to maximize the state’s horse-racing and casino industries. Created by executive order on February 3, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Gaming, Sports and Entertainment is currently undertaking an exhaustive review of the state’s entire gaming industry. Its final report – due June 30 – is directed to include recommendations for “a comprehensive, statewide approach regarding the issues and financial needs of New Jersey’s gaming, professional sports, and entertainment industries.”