Stay innovative. Have realistic expectations. Retain flexibility, and know that bringing casino gambling to a community will not solve major social problems.

These are among the messages New Jersey and Atlantic City experts had for legislators around the country who are grappling with developing a thriving gambling industry in their states and towns.

Speaking at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference at The Water Club Saturday, Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, Department of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck and Spectrum Gaming Group Managing Director Michael Pollock discussed the history of Atlantic City’s evolution into a gambling resort along with the lessons learned from mistakes and successes.

“If you have casino gaming already, you today need to be prepared to adapt and adjust,” Rebuck said. “Your models may be solid now, but in the future, you will fail if you don’t change and adapt.”

Among the attendees at this weekend’s conference held at The Water Club were state lawmakers from Florida, Delaware, Kentucky and Utah. Florida House of Representatives member Jim Waldman, in introducing the panel discussing Atlantic City’s history, told the room that the session was crucial for those legislators trying to bring or increase the gambling industry in their states.

Pollock said effective regulation, strong public planning and making sure expectations of all parties remained realistic were critical for a successful gambling industry.

“There will be winners and there will be losers (among all businesses),” Pollock said. “One of the things we learned in Atlantic City is many local businesses survived and many didn’t. Those that did recognized they had to have good food, parking, access. Those that didn’t, didn’t succeed.”

Whelan warned those in the room that introducing gambling to their city or state was not a perfect solution to economic or social problems. “We have the same social ills that other urban communities have and society generally has. If you think casinos are going to be a cure-all, they are not,” Whelan said. “”They do not cure hardcore unemployment. Hardcore unemployment is a social problem.”

Whelan also warned that businesses would need to adapt and diversify if they wanted the casino industry in a particular town or state to succeed. Atlantic City, he said, did not grow and change, even before gambling was legalized in the 1970s.

Rebuck, who was appointed head of the DGE by Gov. Chris Christie, also stressed that gambling industries would need to evolve and adapt as social trends changed. He warned those from out of state that high taxes on the casino industry would affect how those businesses would be able to invest in new attractions or update existing buildings, which is key to bringing in visitors, he said.

“You’re riding the gravy train now, just like New Jersey did when they were the only game in town,” he said. “But you will be in trouble in the future.”

Contact Sarah Watson:

609-272-7216

Follow on Twitter @acpresssarah

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.