During public debate over the casino-deregulation bill, casino savings from deregulation were generally estimated at about $20 million to $25 million - an amount that was supposed to go toward marketing Atlantic City and paying for infrastructure improvements in the Tourism District.
At one point in late December, Gov. Chris Christie estimated those savings to be as high as
$60 million. Conversely, Casino Control Commission Chair Linda Kassekert estimated them to be as low as $5 million.
Who came closest to the reality? Right - Kassekert.
Just two months after Christie made that sky-high estimate, the governor's budget shows the projected savings from deregulation to be just $10 million. And because of some rather outrageous amendments made to appease the horse-racing lobby in the Tourism District bill, that money is slated to go to the race tracks - not to Atlantic City. The law calls for the first $15 million of savings from deregulation to go to horse racing. As a final insult, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is required to pony up the difference - the $5 million shortfall.
How could estimates be so off base? After all, this shouldn't have been difficult to predict: The Casino Control Commission saved $14.6 million, mostly by laying off its inspectors. The Division of Gaming Enforcement got an additional $4.5 million to take over some of the functions of the casino commission. That increase for the DGE was entirely predictable and anticipated, according to a spokesman for the Department of Law and Public Safety.
So how could Christie and lawmakers have been so wrong about what the actual savings would be?
We don't have an answer for that.
Susan Ney Thompson, interim executive director of the CRDA, said concerns about the impact of the reduced savings on the CRDA's budget for the city are "really premature." We hope she's right.
Still, this latest disappointment just underscores the need for all parties to get moving on working out the details of how the new laws will work, how much money the Tourism District will have to work with and how the CRDA will mesh with the city in sharing responsibilities.
The new laws creating a Tourism District and deregulating casinos - along with the state's commitment to a tax rebate for the Revel Entertainment Group casino project - have provided Atlantic City with a much-needed boost. But the laws were short on some details. We suspect the reduced level of deregulation savings isn't the only surprise that we'll see once the legislation starts being implemented.