Nearly four years ago, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey embarked on a mission to create a gambling and tourism think tank that would rival the academic gambling voices in the western part of the country.
Today, the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism provides and analyzes data on the gambling and tourism industries, acts as a neutral platform for local leaders to discuss sometimes polarizing issues, and engages with the public, acting as an analytical voice in the industry.
Still, the institute’s executive director, Israel Posner, who joined the college before the advent of gambling in Atlantic City, says more remains to be done.
That’s particularly true, he said, as the state continues to explore the evolution of gambling with online wagering, sports betting and potential gambling expansion in North Jersey. Those discussions come exactly four decades since voters were first asked to consider the possibility of statewide casinos with a failed referendum in 1974.
“It’s a very interesting time to be a part of the conversation,” Posner said. “My focus will continue to be on understanding who the visitors are and what keeps them coming here in light of the increasing competition.”
The institute, also known as LIGHT, was created in 2010 with a donation from attorney Lloyd D. Levenson, CEO and chairman of the casino-law department at the Cooper Levenson law firm in Atlantic City.
Despite decades of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, at the time the area had no higher education institution model for gambling research. Instead, the strongest voices continued to come from the nationally recognized University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research.
Posner said he believes the area long lacked an academic voice in the gambling industry simply because South Jersey’s Stockton College was new and needed time to develop before it broadened its reach in the community. That changed under President Herman J. Saatkamp, who assumed the role in 2003. Saatkamp has made a mission for the college to branch out into the surrounding community and play a role in the industries that support the area.
“Whether you like them or not, casinos are still the No. 1 employer in this area with 30,000 jobs,” Posner said.
The institute’s dedicated staff consists of just three people. Posner is considering hiring a research assistant but otherwise relies on teaming with other Stockton faculty members for research. He said there’s often discussion of adding dedicated researchers to the institute, but he believes the current model works for now and allows flexibility.
Among the research the institute produces is a quarterly tourism performance indicator report and an annual visitor profile study. It also often partner’s with Stockton’s polling center.
Other organizations such as the Somerset County Business Partnership now also approach the institute for studies. In Somerset’s case, it was looking for a visitor profile of those who comes to that community.
Brian Tyrrell, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at Stockton, is among the faculty who work closely with the institute. He pointed out that while the institute works closely with Atlantic City, it also realizes its mission is broader, including all of South Jersey’s regional tourism economy.
A master plan developed by the state in the 1990s also called for additional research and professional programs in tourism study.
“Stockton’s plans developed from that, and with Herman it really became a priority,” Tyrrell said. “The early work has been recognized, and there are organizations that are looking to us to help better understand their own tourism economies.”
With a board of directors including interests across the casino and tourism industries and other local stakeholders, Posner said, the institute provides a unique place for those stakeholders to vet concerns and ask questions. Most often, he said, the stakeholder want a better understanding of the type of person who comes to Atlantic City.
As the city continues to push for more non-gambling amenities to satisfy state directives for the Tourism District, Posner hypothesized that within the next 10 years the city may split nearly evenly in gambling and non-gambling attractions.
“My holy grail is to continue to provide insight into what will maintain this area, not just in the summer, but throughout the year,” Posner said. “People are always jabbering comparing Atlantic City to what it was in 2006, but I compare it to what it was like when I first came here in 1973 before casinos. People forget what it was like then.”
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