Guest column: N.J.’s casino saga should be a warning for Florida

 

ORL SEN

April 15, 2016

By John Sowinski
Guest Columnist

Where are too many casinos not enough casinos?

The answer begins in Atlantic City, N.J., and extends across the entire Northeast.

As casinos fail, as a city crumbles, the response from the gambling industry and its political supporters remains the same — build even more casinos.

Florida escaped falling into this trap during the most recent legislative session, when proposals to build even more casinos here failed to pass.

But next year, the battle will begin anew.

When it comes to this industry, there is no such thing as lesson learned.

Consider Atlantic City, which is turning into Detroit by the Sea.

Four major casinos have shut down and, according to analysts at Moody’s, more are pending.

Unemployment and poverty are rampant. Neighborhoods are riddled with abandoned homes.

Casinos that once filled city coffers with property taxes now are owed massive refunds because their revenues are collapsing. The money flow is reversing, and the city can’t pay its debt, even after massive tax increases on homeowners.

Gov. Chris Christie refuses to bail out the city, unless it agrees to a hostile takeover by the state, which would include selling city assets and tearing up collective-bargaining agreements with public employees. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian has called the proposal a “fascist dictatorship.” If there is any gratitude for the city’s 35 years of service providing casino revenue to the state, it’s hard to find.

The final straw now has the Legislature putting a measure on the November ballot allowing for new casinos in northern New Jersey.

The Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce fears the competition will cost the city two or three more casinos and 14,000 more jobs. Promises that some money from the new casinos will be used to rejuvenate Atlantic City ring hollow, given past broken promises of how casinos would solve Atlantic City’s problems.

Atlantic City has no place to go but down the tubes. It is being drained dry, while the casino industry and the state look to greener pastures closer to New York.

Guardian has warned his neighbors to the north to expect the prostitutes, drugs and crimes that would go along with their new casinos. It’s an admission that comes from the voice of experience.

A columnist for The Trentonian newspaper in 2014 called for the legalization of prostitution in Atlantic City as a way to salvage its future.

“Heaven knows it’s happening anyway, so why not legalize it, tax it, yada yada yada it and move on,” Jeff Edelstein wrote.

In addition to putting Atlantic City out of its misery, the proposed new casinos would by design rob customers from neighboring casinos in surrounding states.

There is a casino arms race raging in the Northeast. There are eight more casinos coming on line in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to Moody’s.

States that have become dependent on gambling revenues are desperately trying to keep every lost dollar within their boundaries, adding inventory to a glutted market and stressing existing casinos.

Citing research from the Rockefeller Foundation, Pew Trusts recently reported that state taxes from casinos have been largely flat since the Great Recession, a disturbing trend given the casinos’ aging customer base.

Of particular concern is that millennials have little interest in traditional slot machines, which are the backbone of casino profits.

In assessing the New Jersey plan for more casinos, a senior analyst from the New Jersey Policy Perspective penned an op-ed in the December Star-Ledger that policy makers in Florida should heed.

“Casinos are no longer the draw they once were — particularly in a regional market that has already reached its saturation point,” wrote analyst Sheila Reynertson. “Casino expansion reeks of favoritism and poor economic planning by a state government addicted to quick ‘fixes,’ easy ‘solutions’ and gimmicks. It’s like a bad dream all over again.”

We don’t have to gaze into a crystal ball to wonder what our future would be like in Florida if our legislators gave in to the ever-increasing demands of gambling lobbyists and their millions of dollars in campaign contributions; we only have to look up north.

Casinos need Florida; we don’t need them.

To read the column on the Orlando Sentinel’s website, click here

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