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Senate Committees Continue To Push Gaming Bills

Measures Would Expand Economic Competitiveness for Atlantic City Casinos, Help Stabilize Horse Racing Industry

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats to help reinvigorate Atlantic City’s ailing casino industry and help stabilize the State’s failing horse racing industry were approved in two separate Senate Committees today.

The bills, the result of Statewide hearings held on issues pertaining to the gaming and wagering economic sectors earlier this year, are intended to bolster economic activity and maintain competitiveness for our gaming industries, which are facing more and more competition from across State lines.

“The casino industry is the economic engine for the South Jersey region,” said Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, the Chair of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee which advanced three of the five bills which were approved today, and co-chair of the Legislative Gaming Summit which recommended the bills. “Horse-racing is a major component of our Statewide economy. Taken together, these industries are too big and too important to be allowed to fail, and we have to do our part to allow our State’s gaming and wagering facilities to compete with out-of-State gaming interests which are leaching funds away from New Jersey.”

“This is a matter of economic survival for the entire state,” said Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem, and a member of the Legislative Gaming Summit which recommended statutory action. “Casinos and horse tracks employ thousands of State residents, pump billions of dollars into our Statewide economy, generate millions in tax revenue and support a myriad of ancillary industries including hotels, restaurants and other tourism-based businesses. These bills represent a commitment from the Senate Democrats to give our troubled casino and horse-racing industries the tools to remain economically productive.”

In the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, a bill sponsored by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, S-490, which would authorize Atlantic City casinos to operate intrastate and international Internet wagering operations was approved by a vote of 10-1, with two abstentions. The bill would provide that all games, including poker, that are played at a casino, as well as variations or composites, may be offered through Internet wagering, and the bill would establish proper safeguards and regulation to ensure fairness in Internet wagering. Internet-based games would be available to New Jersey residents and international bettors, but would be prohibited for bettors across state lines, to conform to federal interstate Internet gambling prohibitions. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“If S-490 is signed into law, New Jersey will be the first state in the nation to have intrastate and international Internet gaming,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union, and a member of the Legislative Gaming Summit. “The revenues generated and jobs created are now going off shore to international gaming operators. S-490 will redirect those revenues to our casinos in Atlantic City and, under S-11, to build a bridge to self-sufficiency for our horseracing industry and help save its 13,000 jobs and $1 billion of revenues generated in New Jersey.”

The Budget Committee also approved legislation sponsored by Committee Chair, Senator Paul A. Sarlo, which would dedicate an amount equal to the sales and use taxes associated with horse racing, breeding, training, raising or boarding to programs designed to improve and promote thoroughbred and standardbred horse breeding in New Jersey. The bill, S-2394, would require the Director of the Division of Taxation to annually deposit an amount equal to the sales and use tax revenue collected in association with horse racing and breeding into a new fund within the Department of Law and Public Safety – the “New Jersey Standardbred and Thoroughbred Racehorse Incentive Fund” – which will be maintained by the New Jersey Racing Commission. The Director of Taxation would be required to consult with the Racing Commission to identify and define the amount of tax revenue associated with horse racing and breeding. The bill was unanimously approved by the Budget Committee, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“This bill is modeled after a successful program in Pennsylvania which has supported horse breeding in the Keystone State,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, and a member of the Legislative Gaming Summit. “Our horse tracks and the associated breeding, boarding and training industries are collapsing, and unless we come up with creative funding mechanisms, we’re going to lose this billion-dollar industry. By reinvesting sales tax funds paid on the horse breeding industries to horse breeding, we can hopefully keep these industries economically viable.”

In the Senate State Government Committee, a bill sponsored by Senate President Sweeney, Committee Chair Whelan, and Senator Jeff Van Drew which would allow for the creation of an Atlantic City Tourism District and bolster the powers of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) was approved by a vote of 3-0, with one abstention. The bill, S-11, would require CRDA to designate through resolution the territory that would comprise the Atlantic City Tourism District (ACT District). Under the bill, CRDA would have broad jurisdiction within the newly created ACT District to impose land use regulations, implement initiatives that promote cleanliness, commercial development and safety, undertake redevelopment projects, and institute public safety improvements with a Joint Law Enforcement Task Force within the State Police which would also be created by this bill.

Through the legislation, the Joint Law Enforcement Task Force would be authorized to hire current Atlantic City police officers and Atlantic City police officers who had been laid-off within 24 months of the bill’s enactment, to provide for public safety within the ACT District. CRDA would be required to adopt a 10-year, full scale national marketing program to encourage tourism and investment in Atlantic City. And the bill would dedicate the first five years of revenues associated with Internet wagering in Senator Lesniak’s bill to purse supplements at racetracks. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“We have to recognize that Atlantic City’s gaming and tourism attractions have a bigger impact than inside the city borders,” said Senate President Sweeney. “If we’re serious about turning Atlantic City’s casinos into a resort destination, we have to separate the problems plaguing the casino district from the problems facing the entire city. By creating an ACT District, we can focus on the unique needs of Atlantic City’s casino and tourism industries, and encourage new visitors and new investment which will help the entire South Jersey economy.”

“Atlantic City’s casino district is a microcosm unto itself, with problems and special needs which can’t be found anywhere else within the city,” said Senator Whelan, a former mayor of Atlantic City. “At the same time, the fate of New Jersey’s continued economic success hinges on the economic success of Atlantic City’s casinos and tourism industry. By focusing State agencies such as CRDA, and the new Joint Law Enforcement Task Force on the needs of the ACT District, we can focus greater resources and attention on the needs of our State’s casino industry.”

“Casino gambling in Atlantic City is so vitally important to the regional economy,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic, and a member of the Legislative Gaming Summit. “This bill would ensure that the State is doing its part to foster growth, encourage tourism and investment, and provide for a safe and enjoyable experience for Atlantic City’s patrons. At the same time, we’ll be able to partner with local officials and agencies to ensure maximum benefit for Atlantic City, South Jersey, and the State as a whole.”

A second bill approved by the State Government Committee by a vote of 4-0, S-12, sponsored by Senators Whelan and Lesniak, would clearly delineate casino regulation powers between the Division of Gaming Enforcement under the Attorney General, and the Casino Control Commission. Under the bill, the Division of Gaming Enforcement would be responsible for the regulatory, law enforcement and day-to-day oversight activities of gaming in New Jersey, and the Casino Control Commission would take on a judicial function, deciding on casino licensure applications, appeals of penalties or violations imposed by the Division of Gaming Enforcement, as well as making recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature to the Casino Control Act that the Commission and Division may deem necessary. The bill, which codifies recommendations made in a report to the Governor on gaming and wagering issues earlier this year, could generate between $15 and $25 million in annual savings. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“By restructuring the casino regulatory system, we can put agencies to work doing what they do best, and ensure less duplication of effort across the board,” said Senator Whelan. “We can still fulfill the mission of casino oversight without requiring multiple agencies to perform duplicative services, ensuring greater cost to casino licensees. This bill would ease some of the unnecessary regulatory burden and hopefully encourage new investment in the resort.”

A third bill, sponsored by Senators Van Drew and Whelan, would prohibit the imposition of corporate business taxes on out-of-State corporations that operate buses and transport out-of-State residents to destinations within New Jersey. The idea behind the bill is to exempt bus companies that carry passengers, such as senior citizens, from Philadelphia or New York City to Atlantic City for a day trip. The bill is intended to encourage more business, travel and tourism to Atlantic City. It was approved by the State Government Committee by a vote of 3-0 with one abstention, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“The out-of-state buses which ferry casino patrons to Atlantic City represent the veins and arteries injecting life-blood into our local economy,” said Senator Van Drew. “We need to do our part to make sure the buses continue to run, and that bus companies aren’t hampered by New Jersey’s tax structure when they’re delivering much-needed patronage to our casinos.”

The five bills which were approved by Senate Committees today represent the second phase of efforts to revitalize gaming and wagering in New Jersey. Last week, four bills focusing on horse racing were approved by the Senate State Government Committee.

“We will continue to do everything we can to partner with our State’s gaming interests and ensure a vibrant economy moving forward,” said Senator Whelan. “These nine bills represent a significant step forward in injecting economic stability into New Jersey’s gaming and wagering industries, but unless we remain constantly committed to addressing the changing needs of these industries, they will only be a temporary fix. I pledge to continue to work towards competitiveness, stability and economic productivity for our State’s casinos and horse tracks moving forward.”