The problem with discussing the ruin of casino gaming in New Jersey is that a handful of folks in Trenton and South Jersey have managed to hijack the conversation by insisting that Atlantic City can be fixed, while conveniently ignoring the fact that Atlantic City doesn't have to be fixed to improve casino gaming in New Jersey.
In just the last week, we got the news that Chris Christie was vetoing a bill aiming to allow sports bets to be taken in casinos and at racetracks, and the Revel casino will close Sept. 10 after failing to attract a qualified bidder at auction. So perhaps we're past the point where we discuss how to save Atlantic City, because if an improved airport, high-class rail service, legalized online gaming, a glimmering new casino, a reinvestment group to make civic improvements, diving horses, a tourism district, a Boardwalk light show and the gradual removal of Donald Trump can't revive this city's fortunes, it may be time to start spending our scant resources in places where we might see some kind of a return on investment.
So that's why even though the Christie veto smacks of a politician with national ambitions, we think it's time for Ray Lesniak, long the champion of sports betting, to drop this one. The state has spent enough capital — political and otherwise — exploring and arguing this issue. It's not going to win a fight against the major sports leagues, and this battle likely cost it the economic privilege of hosting another NCAA Tournament weekend. Yes, it's a shame that the biggest beneficiaries of sports gambling are mobsters, but the courts have decided this is going to be status quo.
Had it been successful, sports gaming probably would have saved Atlantic City — until it also became legal in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and so on. It's a zero-sum game — the market is only so big. If New Jersey wants to avoid losing even more of that market, the way to do it is to allow casino development outside Atlantic City; specifically, in the north. The fact that we're still having this conversation nearly 10 years after Atlantic City's glory days have faded into night is exactly why other states have been able to eat so much of our lunch.
The state economy is in dire straits: We can no longer punish it in order to help keep one city afloat.
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