How about this for irony: In 1987, casino wunderkind Steve Wynn, the man who turns water into wine in this industry, sold the Golden Nugget in a $440 million deal, declaring he was done with New Jersey and its suffocating regulations.
Today, there's a stir being caused over an online gaming company with a dodgy past that wants to run the Atlantic Club, a move that would involve those stringent regulations being loosened more than a belt buckle after Thanksgiving.
The Golden Nugget, of course, operated as Bally's Grand after Wynn sold it, and also went by The Grand, the Atlantic City Hilton and ACH before being rebranded in 2012 as the Atlantic Club.
So, 25 years later, those regulations separate a Wynn Atlantic City — after the man put a crummy strip in the middle of the desert on every U.S. map ever printed, and made Macau the real "Las Vegas East" — and a company with a checkered past looking to acquire the casino in a fire sale.
New Jersey's onerous regulation, of course, isn't limited to casino floors. Ask any executive in the state, and he or she will tell you it's the No. 2 problem with a New Jersey address — nothing, of course, tops property taxes. The Chris Christie administration has done a notable job of listening to businesses through the red tape review commission looking to streamline regulations, but its work is far from over. But the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker has been accused of a number of money laundering and bank fraud schemes that honest, over-regulated business owners don't have on their balance sheets.
What makes the Rational Group's bid to take over the Atlantic Club so troubling is the fact that it seems New Jersey is considering tearing down the walls in an industry that has gone from solid performer to solid waste as other states add gaming to battle their own revenue troubles. It's not even the earliest example — there's also the still-ongoing consideration of allowing MGM to reclaim its stake in the Borgata despite the accusations that the company's Chinese operations are closely tied to organized crime. If we're going to rewrite the rulebook because the industry is swirling down the drain, will that happen elsewhere, too? How much harm will we do by signaling that New Jersey is not open just to entrepreneurs and big businesses, but anyone who will come in and invest? Sometimes, the stakes are too high for a bet like this.