Poll: Keep gambling in Atlantic City only

March 16, 2009 6:15:43 AM PDT
What happens in Atlantic City should stay in Atlantic City. That's the result of a new poll that asked New Jerseyans whether they support extending casino gambling to other areas of the state.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind poll finds 70 percent of those surveyed think gambling should be allowed only in the 11 Atlantic City casinos.

That's good news for the gambling halls, which are struggling with the recession and fierce competition from slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York. The casinos are adamantly against proposals to allow slots at New Jersey racetracks, fearing that would further erode Atlantic City's revenue.

"Right now, Atlantic City is losing on several fronts," said Donald Hoover, an FDU professor and former dealer at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. "It's been hit by the bust in bank lending, hit by the bust in consumer spending, and hit by competition from new casinos in nearby states."

Atlantic City is now in the third year of a revenue downturn that began shortly after slots parlors opened in the Philadelphia suburbs in late 2006 and early 2007. Those gambling halls, which do not offer table games, nonetheless gave gamblers who once had little choice but to go to Atlantic City the option to play much closer to home.

A slots parlor at the Yonkers racetrack in New York is also siphoning off customers from northern New Jersey and New York City, who also have the option of Indian-run casinos in Connecticut.

For all of 2008, Atlantic City's casinos took 7.6 percent less from gamblers than they had in the previous year.

Last month, Atlantic City casinos posted their largest monthly revenue decrease in the 30-year history of legalized gambling here, down 19.2 percent.

Joseph Corbo, president of the Casino Association of new Jersey, said he was encouraged by the poll results.

"Atlantic City is already contending with new competition and the nationwide recession," he said. "Adding competition in our own state would make Atlantic City's challenges even worse, and would result in additional job losses, tax revenue declines and reduced purchases from New Jersey vendors. Most New Jersey residents clearly understand that Atlantic City is an economic engine for our entire state, and are unwilling to jeopardize its future by unnecessarily expanding gaming."

The casinos are fighting hard against proposals from the horse racing industry and their political allies in northern and central New Jersey to allow slot machines at racetracks. Proponents of so-called "racinos" say they are the only way to keep the tracks solvent because racetracks in neighboring states have slot machines.

Atlantic City's casino industry agreed last year to give $90 million over three years to sustain New Jersey's horse racing industry. In exchange, slot machines will not be permitted at New Jersey's racetracks through 2011.

The 1976 referendum that approved casino gambling in New Jersey explicitly said it would be limited to Atlantic City only. A vote on the same topic two years earlier failed in part because it would have permitted casinos in other parts of the state as well.

The statewide telephone poll of 751 registered voters was conducted between Feb. 25 and March 2, and has a margin of error of plus or minus four points.

Seventy percent said they oppose casino-style gambling in locations other than Atlantic City, while 24 percent favored it, and 6 percent were undecided.

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