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-- By John Brennan

MANALAPAN, NJ -- August 13, 2016 -- That has frustrated officials like Meadowland Regional Chamber President Jim Kirkos, who decided an open letter to his South Jersey compatriots is in order.

“We have studied the issue, held conferences and developed programs that utilize casino gaming here with the objective of correcting problems and growing our tourism industry,” said Kirkos. “We stood by for five years while the Administration and Legislature made their best efforts to develop prospective solutions. However, the racing industry is still struggling, and so is Atlantic City. The Meadowlands Regional Chamber believes that New Jersey as a whole must come first regarding the casino Referendum. We want our peer organizations to adopt the same policy and accept that the solution in front of us is not perfect but it creates a win-win-win scenario and there is no better option in front of us.”

Here is the full letter:

"Having served the Meadowlands Regional Chamber for 15 years now I fully understand the need to be a regional advocate on behalf of my business members and the region at large. I would like to think that any regional business leader’s policy positions are sensitized by the enlightened view that a strong and united New Jersey is essential for high-performing regional economies.

But one month ago I was taken aback when I saw business leaders organizing a defined effort to fight against other business leaders in our state over casino expansion in Northern New Jersey. Every senior leader in the state believes that the compromise that resulted in the Referendum for North Jersey casinos balanced the interests of both North and South in our state. I have taken some time before forming a response to this issue out of respect for my peers in order to arrive at a rational plea for collaboration and cooperation on this issue.

In the meantime, something happened that I hope galvanizes us into a new paradigm between North and South so that we can be united in informing the voters about what is in their best interests: elected officials in New York announced they would “not stand for” New Jersey introducing casinos in the northern part of the state and infringe upon their gaming market.

New York and Pennsylvania introduced casino gaming fully 30 years after New Jersey did, and now they are going to dictate our gaming policy? So I would say to my colleagues in South Jersey, are you aligned with the interests of NY and PA or the State of New Jersey? Because no matter how we may need to compete for resources and attention from time to time, we certainly should take New York’s posture as a signal that we better get together on this issue or we are just going to continue exporting what should be our vibrant gaming and business industries elsewhere.

Prior to writing this Open Letter I reviewed the comments surrounding the introduction of the South Jersey effort. As a means of revealing where I think we should be collaborating I would like to make a few observations and comments:

First, no one in the North will stand for Atlantic City’s interests being abandoned. Despite that the polls show an overwhelming mistrust of giving Atlantic City money AND a real doubt that anything can be done to save Atlantic City, the business community in the North will advocate for programs to help Atlantic City recover as though the money were for us. We all agree that AC needs to build a robust resort destination and business hub economy that is not dependent on gaming. The revenues derived by gaming expansion in the North will assist AC Devco in developing and building new business opportunities and jobs that are lost from any past or future gaming decline. The recent news about Trump Taj Mahal closing after Labor Day, having nothing to do with North Jersey casino’s, should serve as acknowledgement in the fact that the gaming market in AC may continue to contract due to Philly, NY and PA casinos not any North Jersey casinos being built.

Second, one South Jersey leader was quoted as saying, "The only thing we have is gaming. I’m not here asking for a handout. I'm asking to be left alone." Clearly, the problems in Atlantic City are that it was left alone with little thought being dedicated to future planning in Urban Economic Development and Destination Development that would have allowed Economic Diversification. North Jersey casinos provide the legislative impetus to evolve the Atlantic City region in a comprehensive way that is not simply launching the DO AC marketing campaign. It is about completing destination development efforts while building a stable economy around it. Atlantic City is by no means a one-note destination now: in addition to gaming it has entertainment, shopping, golf, the beach, amusements, restaurants, an airport, a ball field, a race track and other features. It is time to leverage ALL of those assets in a comprehensive statewide strategy.

Third, comments from other leaders fall into the same devastating trap of ignoring the nature of the competitive casino environment in efforts to discourage North Jersey casinos. One asks "How long after those casinos open do you think it will take before New York responds with a casino of its own to get that money back?” The point actually is, how long are we going to keep the door open for them to do so, which would be much more devastating to Atlantic City casinos than the introduction of North Jersey casinos operated collaboratively by the AC bidders who are qualified for North Jersey licenses. The successful bidders will then be supported by an enormous revenue stream for their continued support. Our South Jersey friends admit they have not factored the financial assistance to be provided in concluding that "Gaming in northern New Jersey will quash vital investment, close casinos, reduce employment, and destabilize an entire region," It is the very instability of the region that has motivated the legislature and the administration to support the Amendment.

In closing, we have seen polls that range from 37% support to 53% support. The key is that once voters are informed of the benefits of North Jersey casinos to seniors and local communities in North and South Jersey, the numbers jump up -- and they are overwhelmingly positive about a casino at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. If we had a broader view from leaders in the South, the Yes Vote would be a slam dunk and all of New Jersey would win. Or we can play right into the hands of our neighbors in New York and Pennsylvania and let them laugh all the way to the bank as we fight among ourselves.

There is a great deal of content related to our perspective at I am hoping it persuades you that we should have a dialogue that measures the greater good. Let’s unite to create a win-win-win scenario for all of New Jersey. "

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