It’s all about the turf.
Even before Gov. Chris Christie’s pair of press conferences to discuss a plan to overhaul the state’s gaming and entertainment industries, the state was divvying up into factions preparing to do battle over parochial interests.
The first to weigh in was the northern faction, concerned over plans to close the Meadowlands race track, privatize the Izod Center and leave gambling to the southern portion of the state. In a statement released before the press conference, Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, who represents Bergen County, called the governor’s proposal “beyond disappointing.”
“Any recommendation to sell or close the Meadowlands race track is beyond disappointing,” she said. “I urge Gov. Christie to reject it and instead embrace efforts to bring video lottery terminals to the track to modernize it and allow it to readily compete with other states. VLT’s at the Meadowlands could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and create thousands of new jobs. That is an opportunity we cannot responsibly leave behind. I will continue my efforts to make it reality and hope the governor sees the light on this issue.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-West Deptford) who represents the South Jersey contingent that counts gaming among its most lucrative revenue sources was next. Sweeney immediately jumped to criticize the report, but as he did duing the budget and cap debates, the Democrat left wiggle room in his comments.
“Improving New Jersey’s gaming and entertainment industry means more than just cleaning the streets and slapping on some paint,” Sweeney said, referring to a recommendation to take over government functions near atlantic City’s casinos and boardwalk. “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.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-East Orange) weighed in on behlaf of her North Jersey colleagues, saying plans to save the Meadowlands should be givenas much priority as efforts to save Atlantic City.
“It is without question absolutely important to make sure Atlantic City remains strong, but it’s important to remember that transforming the Meadowlands complex into a modern and vibrant entertainment destination is also essential to New Jersey’s economy. We must find ways to embrace the potential of both.”
Later, the generals of the North continued their salvo, as the Bergen County Democratic delegation accused Christie of killing Bergen with “a million cuts.”
“First came the drastic cuts to Bergen County’s school and municipal aid that are driving up property taxes. Then there was the attempt to end the Blue Laws and destroy Bergen’s quality of life,” said the delegation, made up of Senators Bob Gordon, Paul Sarlo and Loretta Weinberg and Assembly members Gordon Johnson, Fred Scalera, Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joan Voss and Wagner “Now, we have the plan to essentially shutter the Meadowlands. If Gov. Christie was ever trying to kill Bergen County by a million cuts, this is it.”
Not to be left out in the cold, a group of central Jersey Republicans took aim at the report, hoping to preserve horse racing in Monmouth County by adding gaming – so called Racinos- to the venues.
“Although there exists the glaring omission in today’s report of an investigation and thoughtful discussion of convenience gaming,” said Sen. Jen Beck in a statement that also included Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande. “That is not to say that the report has no value in terms of discussing what ails New Jersey’s racing and gaming industries. It simply does not go far enough in determining real solutions. Racinos are sprouting up all along our borders, while New Jersey continues to bury its head in the sand and refuse to keep up with the competition.”