Is Bigger Better? Maybe not in New Jersey, When it Comes to New Casinos

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Could one of the answer to solving Atlantic City’s casino doldrums be to allow smaller casinos (meaning 200 rooms or less) to be licensed?

That seems to be what some N.J. legislators are contemplating these days. Right now the idea passed through a Senate committee.

Former Mayor James Whelan, now a state senator, introduced legislation in March to permit four new casinos of at least 200 rooms.

The current minimum is 500, and the newest casinos have more than 2,000 each.

But in an economy like ours, what sense does it make to build something so large in New Jersey? Is Bigger Better?

Supporters see the move as a potential cure to the malaise gripping the nation’s second-largest gambling market, which is struggling with competition from neighboring states and from Native American casinos all over the country.

The idea is to attract investment from several smaller projects, rather than trying to finance huge casino projects in the $2 billion range that are nearly impossible to build right now due to the recession.

“With the state of the economy right now, Atlantic City simply cannot attract the sort of investors who can take a risk on a mega-resort in the same vein as the Borgata or some of the older casinos,” Whelan said.

“This bill would allow investors to phase in their investment in Atlantic City and will hopefully attract greater interest from gaming vendors who were hit hard by the global recession.”

Natually, the existing casinos are against this.

Joe Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, wrote to the state Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee opposing the bill.

Corbo wrote that the bill “would materially change the rules of licensing in an unprecedented way that will irrevocably damage an industry that has already invested billions of dollars.”

“For Atlantic City not only to remain viable but to flourish,” he wrote, “it must maintain and enhance itself as a destination/convention community, not simply a transient gaming town.”

Whelan, a Democrat, said adding smaller casinos is a matter of survival for Atlantic City, which is in the midst of a 3 1/2-year revenue slide that began when the first slots parlors opened in Pennsylvania.

We’ll see what happens when the legistlation goes to the full NJ Senate for a vote.

I’ll keep you posted.

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