EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, said if elected she would convene a gambling task force in her first 90 days to evaluate the state's gambling industry. She also seemed to indicate support for continuing to limit legal casino gambling to Atlantic City.
"My overriding concern is to protect the revenue, the tax revenue that casinos generate and ... it provides for so many valuable services and programs that New Jerseyans rely upon," Buono, 59, said, speaking Tuesday night before the Atlantic County Democrats formally opened their Fire Road campaign headquarters.
Casino gambling has been limited in the state to Atlantic City since Resorts Casino Hotel opened in May 1978. But as revenue has fallen in recent years because of regional competition - dragging tax revenue down with it - some northern New Jersey politicians have contemplated expanding gambling beyond Atlantic City. South Jersey politicians strongly oppose expansion.
"I think we need to address (the gambling industry) because Atlantic City is being cannibalized," said Buono, D-Middlesex.
She did not directly say she opposed expanding casino gaming beyond Atlantic City, but said, "We need to protect the revenue streams that we have. We need to protect the jobs that we have in the area, and that's our priority."
Buono previously supported installing video lottery terminals - essentially slot machines - at the Meadowlands but when asked Tuesday, she said, "We need to protect what we have and protect the jobs we have because of the gaming."
She also criticized Atlantic City's Tourism District, saying "the guiding principal" is how residents are included.
More than 100 Atlantic County Democrats packed into an office at SchoPark, 2516 Fire Road, to rally for Buono and themselves Tuesday evening.
Bard Shober, running for county freeholder, compared Buono to Gov. Chris Christie, the high-profile Republican governor. Saying he wanted a great governor, rather than a self-promoter, Shober said, "She's not a celebrity, and her jokes are only moderately funny, but she's a great leader."
Ernest Coursey, another freeholder candidate, urged party members to work for her because "we have a candidate that, unfortunately, a number of Democrats have abandoned."
In her 15-minute speech to Democrats, Buono said she has been consistently underestimated throughout her career, but has persevered.
She criticized Christie for relatively high unemployment rates, vetoing a proposed minimum wage increase and tax credits for the working poor. But she seemed to hit her stride when she spoke of her personal history that included time as a young adult when she needed the state's social programs.
"Don't tell me the social safety net drags people down," Buono said. "It lifts people up - it lifted me up."
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