DN Editorial: Christie's casino gamble not a good one

Posted: February 04, 2011

CERTAINLY New Jersey residents should be concerned about Gov. Chris Christie's decision to give ailing Atlantic City a bailout in the form of a $261 million tax reimbursement that will help a giant casino to finish construction.

But so should Pennsylvania residents.

In fact, Christie's move could be considered a gauntlet thrown down in the ongoing war between the states over gamblers' wallets.

That's a war that Atlantic City has been losing, thanks in great part to the PennsylvaniaLegislature's legalization of gambling in 2004, leading to 10 casinos' being built around the state, including three strategically placed near the New Jersey border.

Pennsylvania's gambit has been successful - at least from the standpoint of the losses suffered by New Jersey casinos: a 31 percent drop in revenues since 2006. Meanwhile, Keystone casinos have seen their revenues increase month after month.

Construction on the $2.5 billion Revel casino stopped two years ago when investors ran out of money. The New Jersey deal will reimburse Revel $261 million in state taxes, and essentially help Revel secure the financing it needs to finish. The casino, which will be the 12th in Atlantic City, will pay the state 20 percent of its revenues until the loan is paid back.

This puts New Jersey in an ugly position: Although not an official investor, the state does become a player in a casino that it is also responsible for regulating.

It also puts Christie, a darling of the GOP, in an equally strange position of having big government step in where private-market forces have stayed away.

But mainly, it puts scarce and precious tax dollars in a highly risky venture: trying to prop up an industry that shares more characteristics with a soap bubble than anything else - shiny, pretty and expanding, but at some point, it's going to burst.

And calling it a "tax-reimbursement program" doesn't alter the fact that it's a gift. The state insists it is not risking these dollars, but what if Revel doesn't succeed? Given that many are now questioning whether we're already "over-casinoed" and doubts about whether Philadelphia even needs a second casino, make this a relevant concern.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, who heads the House Gaming Committee, was surprised at the news, noting that "casinos are supposed to prop up the state, not the other way around."

Pennsylvania's casinos have done well . . . at the expense of New Jersey's. There's a lesson here: As more states - like Ohio and Maryland - open or expand their own, ours have the potential to suffer, too. And then what?

Every time one state raises the ante, all states have to comply. Christie's move underscores just how unwinnable this casino game truly is. *

Big heart

At 5 feet 10 and just 175 pounds, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is a little guy for a professional football player. But he has a big heart. DeSean surprised Nadin Khoury, the Upper Darby 13-year old whose beating was filmed and posted on YouTube, during the boy's appearance on "The View" yesterday. Jackson, Khoury's favorite player, gave him a hug and praised him for speaking out against bullying. He was joined by fellow Birds Todd Herremans and Jamaal Jackson. We've long stopped expecting athletes to be role models, so it was a nice surprise to see Eagles players stepping up for the right thing. *

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