Meadowlands Racetrack Owner Still Hoping For Casino To Save The Day

Jeff Gural is still holding out hope that his Meadowlands Racetrack in northeast New Jersey will be rescued by casino gaming.

Casino gambling in North Jersey, still?

It’s a fascinating position, considering almost 80 percent of New Jersey voters last November shot down the state’s proposal to expand casino gaming beyond Atlantic City in a referendum.

“I’m not a dummy,” Gural told the Press of Atlantic City earlier this month. “I recognize that harness racing is a dying business. I would have no problem being profitable if I could attract the horses. The only thing that will save me at the Meadowlands is a casino.”

For Gural, a self-proclaimed “horse guy,” casino revenues would help him post bigger race purses and in turn attract more racers, he said. Those improved purses give competitors like the Yonkers Raceway in New York and Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack in Chester an edge, according to Gural. Yonkers alone receives $50 million in purse subsidies from its Empire City Casino, Gural said.

‘Sit and wait’ for casinos outside of AC

After the sounding defeat in November, Gural has little option other than wait and hope for the best. He’s hoping that once New York releases three casino licenses for the southern part of the state, New Jersey will respond accordingly.

“Once that happens, voters of New Jersey would be idiots for not approving (expanded casino gaming beyond Atlantic City),” Gural told the Press of Atlantic City. “Common sense is common sense. So right now I plan to sit tight and wait.”

New commercial casinos are now coming online in New York, providing more competition for New Jersey’s gambling dollars.

Another ballot measure in 2018?

The earliest Gural could attempt to put another referendum on the ballot is 2018. Gural gave up early on the referendum in 2016, citing the opposition’s strategy of tying the casino proposal to the dsitrust many felt toward lawmakers.

Sites were proposed, but there were no specifics in the referendum about where exactly the casinos would be built or how much in taxes they would pay.

“It was a throw-the-bums-out attitude,” Gural told the Newark Star-Ledger in September. “You’re seeing that all over. That’s Trump’s message. That was Bernie Sanders’ message. The mood of the country is this anti-government message. It was something we weren’t expecting.”

“I thought if I built a beautiful facility and offered to give the taxpayers $500 million a year, people would get on the bandwagon. Not this year,” Gural added back in September. “Eventually, there will be a casino at the Meadowlands. There has to be.”

There is a bill that would allow for “online” slot machines at the state’s racetracks. The future of that legislation is murky at best.

Atlantic City Meets New Boss, Who Has Little To Say On Plans

State-appointed Atlantic City “czar” Jeff Chiesa appears before the AC City Council and offers few specifics about his plans to pay off the city’s debt.

Atlantic City’s new boss is keeping his cards close to his chest.

Jeffrey Chiesa appeared at a City Council meeting last week but revealed little about his plans for Atlantic City. The state of New Jersey recently designated the former state attorney general and U.S. senator to run the city,

“It has been two weeks,” Chiesa told the City Council and members of the public who attended the meeting, according to The Press of Atlantic City. “My plan is to do what I think is necessary to create a structural financial situation that works not for six months, not for a year, but indefinitely so that this place can flourish in a way that it deserves to flourish.”

State took control of Atlantic City

Atlantic City’s government hit rock-bottom last month when the state took over the city’s day-to-day operations.

Decimated by the closure of five of its 12 casinos since 2014 — the latest was the Trump Taj Mahal — the city’s municipal tax revenue fell by more than 70 percent over the past six years. It plummeted from $21 billion in 2010 to just $6 billion this past fiscal year. Atlantic City was approximately $500 million in debt before the state intervened.

Few details, lots of power for Chiesa

While Chiesa was short on details, he comes with plenty of power. Under the state’s rescue law passed in May, Chiesa will have the authority to sell city assets, lay off workers and break union contracts.

“What this designation has done is consolidate authority, per the legislation, in the designee to make those decisions,” Chiesa said. “That does not mean that I’m not listening. That does not mean I’m pretending I have all the answers without consulting with other people.”

Gov. Chris Christie appointed Chiesa. Christie, in a recent appearance, was also quiet on what the state had planned for AC.

He didn’t offer up specific details on what is to come. But Chiesa said one of the most pressing priorities was to reach an agreement with casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes.

Brighter days in AC’s future?

Despite the questions swirling around Chiesa and how he and the state will begin paying down debt, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren is betting that better times are ahead for Atlantic City.

“Atlantic City’s darker days are behind it,” Murren said at the National Press Club recently.

Murren recently oversaw the MGM’s acquisition of the Borgata, Atlantic City’s market leader. MGM bought out Boyd Gaming, which was a 50-50 partner in Borgata, in August.

“It’s heartbreaking what has happened in Atlantic City,” Murren added. “I would not have just invested additionally another $800 million into Atlantic City if I did not believe that it could move forward.”

Christie Mum On New Jersey’s Atlantic City Takeover During Visit To Troubled Casino Town

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was curiously silent about the state’s takeover of Atlantic City during a public appearance there.

Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrangled control of Atlantic City from local officials. But Christie was curiously silent about the state’s takeover of the city during the recent New Jersey League of Municipalities’ annual conference, which was held in AC.

The backstory on AC

The closure of five of 12 casinos since 2014 has decimated Atlantic City — most recently the Trump Taj Mahal. Its municipal tax revenue has fallen by more than 70 percent over the past six years. Tax receipts plummeted from $21 billion in 2010 to just $6 billion this past fiscal year.

The city has suffered from increased gambling competition from Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York casinos. AC is approximately $500 million in debt as a result of decreased tax collections.

On Nov. 1, New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs rejected local leaders’ recovery efforts. Eight days later the state’s Local Finance Board approved a five-year takeover plan that does not allow for bankruptcy.

The AC mayor on the takeover

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian rallied against Christie and the takeover earlier in the week. He told other urban mayors at a roundtable discussion that he needed a governor who “won’t take over Atlantic City, but rather one that will lend us a helping hand.”

Guardian admitted to the Press of Atlantic City that he expected Christie to use Thursday’s podium as a chance to retaliate. That never happened, however.

“Obviously, I was surprised he did not,” Guardian told the newspaper.

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The takeover continues

Christie’s longtime ally, Jeffrey Chiesa, will oversee the state’s takeover. The former New Jersey attorney general — and briefly U. senator — Chiesa will have unprecedented power in his position as Atlantic City’s debt-restructuring czar. That will include the ability to sell off city assets, hire and fire workers and negate previously signed union contracts.

Guardian has threatened to sue on the city’s behalf if the takeover goes too far. He said earlier in the week he didn’t believe the state had done anything unconstitutional.

“I am committed to improving essential government and community services for the people of the Atlantic City,” Chiesa said in a statement. “I will listen to the people and work hand in hand with local stakeholders to create solutions that will prevent waste and relieve generations of taxpayers from the burden of long-term debt. We will put Atlantic City back on a path to fiscal stability.”

Guardian and city councilors will handle Atlantic City’s day-to-day operations. Chiesa will be in charge of paying off the city’s debt, which includes an approximate $100 million annual budget deficit.

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