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PLEASANTVILLE - Gov. Jon S. Corzine promised to oppose legislation authorizing what are essentially slot machines at race tracks, taking the locally contentious issue off the table at a time when a commission he picked is considering it.
Corzine, speaking at a Press of Atlantic City editorial board meeting here, flatly said "no" when asked if he could imagine a scenario in a next term when he would assent to video lottery terminal legislation.
VLTs are essentially slot machines, opposed by Atlantic City casino executives who fear the effects on their business. Horse racing interests have sought them to prop up sagging finances. Casinos currently pay $30 million annually to horse racing interests to stave off VLTs, though no VLT legislation has ever reached the governor's desk.
Corzine has convened a commission of gaming and horse racing officials that meets monthly to consider what to do after the agreement ends next year. He was noncommittal Friday about future agreements.
Beyond the effects on Atlantic City, the governor said the wider proliferation of slot machines negated any benefits.
"If you're going to make that decision and put in VLTs, I'd go a lot further than that. And I don't think we're going to do that. I believe in the franchise that we have in Atlantic City," Corzine said. "But if you were going to do it, if you were going to authorize gaming in the Meadowlands, I don't think you'd go half way. I'd go and ask for a constitutional change to have real gaming."
The governor also expanded on earlier comments that he had sought Chinese aid to help finance the $2 billion Revel casino. He said he talked with Chinese legal counsel in New York and met with an economic attaché this week.
"(I've) made calls, written letters, offered to visit, do anything to make this work," Corzine said.
Corzine, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, said he had reached out to people he met both during a 2006 trip to China as governor and people he knew "from an earlier life."
Generally, he said he speaks with someone every month to six weeks to help casinos achieve financing. "I have private conversations reaching out in every possible avenue," he said. "I will continue to do that."
Corzine also said casinos were "probably" the best use for Bader Field, but said he believed development was five to 10 years off. In the interim, he suggested the former municipal airport in Chelsea Heights be used as open parkland, with no permanent structures.
On other topics, Corzine:
Said he would review the appointment of Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director Tom Carver after the election, saying he has done a "more than adequate job in the circumstances of real stress." Carver's appointment expired two years ago.
Said "the repeated breakdowns of public ethics" in Atlantic City government has weakened it and made it harder for Mayor Lorenzo Langford to promote the town. Corzine credited Langford with addressing ethics issues, saying "he's got a record of ethics in how he's behaved. You can argue with whether you like his policies or not, but he hasn't had his hand in the till."
Said the state continues reform efforts at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital by reducing the number of patients and getting the staff better trained and motivated to reduce violent incidents and improve patient services. The federal government had threatened to sue the state if improvements were not made.
Stopped short of saying Christie violated federal Hatch Act legislation that prohibits partisan campaigning while holding federal office, saying "H
e may not have gone over the line but he came pretty damn close."
The campaign has criticized Christie for meeting with prominent Republicans while he was U.S. attorney. Having those meetings "sounds like Hatch Act issues, but that has to be determined by someone else," Corzine said.
Defended commercials that attack Christie's driving record and suggest he got special treatment from law enforcement. The ads have been
criticized for obliquely referencing the Republican challenger's weight.
"People who flash their credentials or use their offices to accomplish something, people say 'people threw their weight around,'" Corzine said.
Asked directly if he thought Christie was fat, Corzine touched his bare head, smiled and said, "Am I bald?"
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