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CHRISTIE FUNDRAISER GETS SECOND CHANCE IN ATLANTIC CITY

Link to Asbury Park Press

CHRISTIE FUNDRAISER GETS SECOND CHANCE IN ATLANTIC CITY
By Bob Jordan@BobJordanAPP
6:31 a.m. EDT August 25, 2014
Asbury Park Press

A top Gov. Chris Christie fundraiser in charge of state gambling and entertainment policy is getting a second chance to remake Atlantic City despite presiding over a rash of casino closings putting more than 6,000 out of work.

Consensus ideas from a Sept. 8 summit of state and local leaders called by the Republican governor to address the future of Atlantic City will be turned over to real estate executive Jon F. Hanson, chairman of an ad hoc state commission that will decide how to implement reforms.

Hanson has been the state's gaming and entertainment czar since Christie took office in 2010 but a decline of business at Atlantic City's casinos has accelerated. The city started this year with 12 casinos, reduced to 11 when the Atlantic Club closed in January, and shutdowns of Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza have been scheduled over the next three weeks.

Four years ago the Governor's Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment released a 29-page overhaul plan, widely known as the Hanson Report, urging Christie to cut state support for horse racing and work with lawmakers to establish a new Atlantic City tourism district and market the city as more than a gambling destination.

Hanson and colleagues also advocated for the state to grant a combined $650 million in tax breaks for Revel casino and the Xanadu/American Dream mixed-use entertainment and retail complex in the Meadowlands Sports Complex. None of the bets have paid off.

Revel opened in April 2012 but was unable to turn a profit and will close Sept. 2. Xanadu, originally proposed in 2003 but stalled during the economic downturn, is not expected to open before fall 2016.

Atlantic City, meanwhile, has seen more spending on items such as show tickets, amusement attractions and alcoholic beverages but has been clobbered by losses in gaming revenue, which peaked at $5.2 billion in 2006 and slipped to $2.9 billion last year.

"The state's gambling policy has been a disaster across the board,'' said Anthony Perretti, whose family's 900-acre standardbred breeding farm in Upper Freehold closed down, he said, because Christie and Hanson opposed expanding gambling at racetracks.

"New Jersey has gone from having 3,000 standardbred mares bred in the best year to only 110 bred last year and casinos are closing. State policy is absolutely to blame. We don't have the stability or purses that can attract investment from horse buyers,'' Perretti said.

Other gaming industry said they're hopeful about the summit and praised Hanson's past efforts.

Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, which represents restaurant and hotel workers at the casinos, said, "It's too early to have expectations about what will come out of the summit but I have hope that it will help us. I'm looking forward to it and I have a lot of confidence that Jon Hanson can be of assistance.''

No representatives from the horse racing industry have been invited but Monmouth Park adviser Dennis Drazin said he's "made an inquiry'' to change that.

"Any discussion on the expansion of gambling outside of Atlantic City should involve Monmouth Park,'' Drazin said.

Hanson, who could not be reached for comment, is not a paid adviser to Christie but he benefited from a $105.6 million location-specific tax break included in legislation Christie signed last year.

Hanson's real estate company will develop a hotel and office building near a hospital in Paterson in a joint venture with a non-profit organization but Hanson's firm will end up owning the $53 million office building. The law Christie signed carried extra perks for properties "located on or adjacent to the campus of an acute care medical facility."

Hanson said he didn't consult with Christie on the bill and Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts in an email said, "As Mr. Hanson himself has publicly confirmed, the governor had no conversations with Mr. Hanson on this project, nor was the governor aware that the project would qualify.''

The sequence prompted two Democratic state senators, Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak, to draft a bill prohibiting a business and its officers from making political contributions when the business is receiving a state development subsidy of $25,000 or more. The proposal is awaiting a hearing in the State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee

Hanson raised millions of dollars for Christie as finance chairman on his 2009 and 2013 election campaigns. He donated the maximum $7,600 to Christie's primary election and general election campaigns in 2009 and maxed out again in the 2013 election cycle.

Bob Jordan 609-984-4343, bjordan@app.com
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