The idea of dropping casinos wherever we see opportunities - such as the current proposal to bring casino gaming to Meadowlands Racetrack - has more to do with obsessing about short term gambling revenue than with creating lasting new industries and job opportunities for the people of our state.
Those who would endanger our $4 billion casino industry to poach from ourselves and from our neighboring states would have us abandon a successful, 34-year model, which has produced long-term economic benefits for the entire state.
Proponents of gambling in North Jersey say we need to "stop the bleeding" and "get in on the competition." But they forget that New Jersey already is the competition. Replicating what every other state is doing will only chip away at our own
New Jersey casinos are collectively one of the state's largest employers. They directly and indirectly support over 100,000 jobs, power 1,700 small businesses across every county and generate over $11.8 billion in consumer spending every year. That is largely because our state's gaming policy is focused on creating jobs, not chasing down revenue. And on jobs, we blow our competition out of the water.
New Jersey's casinos directly employ more than 1.5 times as many people as do all the racinos and slot parlors in our neighboring states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York combined. We double the wages of Pennsylvania and provide more than five times the wages of New York. We beat Delaware seven times over. That means more state tax revenue, more families sustained and a more prosperous state. To risk these things is foolish.
A Meadowlands casino would not protect us from gaming competition in other states, but instead would contribute to it. Residents who live within a one-hour drive of the Meadowlands are critically important to our casino industry's success. They accounted for $715 million last year at New Jersey's casinos, or 18.5 percent of total gaming revenue. Instead of growing New Jersey's gaming market, a Meadowlands racino would take much of its revenue - a projected 45 percent in 2014 - from gaming dollars that would otherwise already be spent in the state.
And slot machines at the Meadowlands would not boost racetrack revenue - the very industry the proposal is supposed to save. Meadowlands Racetrack, even with a casino, would most likely continue to experience both declining attendance and wagering. In Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, both racetrack attendance and wagering on horse races decreased after the installation of slot machines.
Don't get me wrong. We are going through a very challenging period. Casinos are not unlimited cash cows and there are no easy miracles. That is precisely why drastically changing our gaming policy is a dangerous thing to do.
No one has as strong a model for gaming success as New Jersey: a fair tax rate, a consolidation of licenses and a built-in tourism infrastructure. When the industry rebounds, and history tells us it will, it will be those chasing after the convenience gamblers who will be in trouble.
Admittedly there is risk in any course we follow, but the greater risk lies in abandoning our current gaming policy. Approval of a casino at the Meadowlands or and even just the serious discussion of it sends a message to Wall Street that the rules have dramatically changed in New Jersey. This creates a less-stable investment climate. Less stability means more risk, raises the cost of capital, and reduces the potential return.
While we cannot control the proliferation of casino gaming in neighboring states, we can ensure that our casinos, and the economic benefits that flow from them, are not changed by self-inflicted in-state competition in the heart of the largest feeder market for our casinos. So while we may be tempted by the limited short-term success of our neighbors, we should stop retreating to the mistakes of the past and get New Jersey back to work.
If we stay focused on the plan we already have in place, the New Jersey casino industry will continue to be a powerful economic engine, not only for southern New Jersey, but for the entire state.
John Amodeo is a Republican assemblyman representing Atlantic County.