Senate Leaders Say Industry Needs A Future, Not Just A Spit-Shine
TRENTON – Senate leaders today welcomed the delayed release of the so-called Hanson Commission report, but said the final product is “underwhelming and incomplete” and its closed-door analysis fails to deal with the fundamental issues of competition that are hampering New Jersey’s gaming industry.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney said the report makes the need for next month’s “gaming summit” of lawmakers and industry experts all the more vital and pressing.
“Anyone who walks the Atlantic City Boardwalk for five minutes would come to the same conclusions that it took this commission six months of closed-door meetings to reach,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “Improving New Jersey’s gaming and entertainment industry means more than just cleaning the streets and slapping on some paint. It means bringing new products into the market that will attract visitors and beat back the steady stream of new competitors. It means creating jobs and welcoming businesses. This report only goes half way.”
While the commission report outlined a series of changes to the way the state’s gaming areas would look and operate, Sweeney said it failed to offer proposals that could actually grow the industry, attract new investment and restore the state’s reputation as the East Coast’s preeminent gaming destination. He added that next month’s planned gaming summit would use the Hanson report as a baseline for discussions, but would also deal with the more detailed economic and market-based issues the gaming industry needs to confront in creating a vision for long-term viability.
Majority Leader Barbara Buono said the most telling difference between the Hanson Commission and the gaming summit will be the legislative endeavor’s focus on transparency. In the five months since the commission was created by executive order, it has only met privately. Buono said that makes it possible that certain elements were working out of a desire for self-preservation instead of revitalizing the entire industry.
“The future of our entertainment and gaming complex deserves better than just a few closed-door sessions and a press conference,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “These issues deserve a public hearing. We need to know who is pushing for what so we can ensure that we act out of the need to promote the industry as a whole, and not just one sector or one company. Given the lack of transparency in the Hanson Commission, it could have just as easily been called ‘Reform Atlantic City Now.”
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, who Sweeney has asked to sit on the gaming summit, said the industry deserved a more far-sighted report given the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues it provides for essential state programs for the elderly.
“This half-hearted, half-finished report makes the need for the gaming summit more clear than ever,” said Sarlo (D-Bergen). “The commission really fell short of looking at anything other than regulations and real estate. We need to consider the proposals offered by the commission but must inject the real revolutionary ideas that it is missing and which will allow New Jersey to compete for years to come.”