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MEADOWLANDS RACETRACK CZAR SPEAKS OUT

NorthJersey.com

-- John Brennan

MANALAPAN, NJ -- October 15, 2016 -- “This has been a very frustrating time for me,” Gural began, before recounting how, five years ago, he literally saved the day on the state’s harness racing industry by agreeing to take over the East Rutherford track from the state.

“The state correctly wanted to get out of owning racetracks,” Gural said. “No state should be running racetracks. I got involved because I thought it would be important to save horse racing. But I would not have done it if I did not think we would have a casino. I still think there’s going to be a casino there, eventually.”

Gural is a major real estate mogul both in New York City and New Jersey, and he owns the land where Bethlehem Sands casino sits. He also led the successful charge to bring up to four new casinos to New York State (though one being built in the Catskills called Montreign is helping bankroll the Trenton’s Bad Bet group which has been pummeling this casino vote in TV and radio ads and in mailings).

Gural said that he offered to pay 55 percent tax on slots revenues at a Meadowlands casino, as the Keystone State casinos do, based on his knowledge of the economics of Sands. He projected that would raise $500 million in casino tax revenue for the state – more than twice as much as the Atlantic City casinos pay combined. “How could you turn that down?” he asked.

The conversion of Gural’s Tioga Downs racetrack in upstate New York into a full-fledged casino will produce $50 million in taxes to the state, or more than many Atlantic City casinos pay, he noted. That’s in Nichols, New York, “population 3,000,” he added. Gural said “some genius” in politics decided it’s better to keep a monopoly in Atlantic City. “You can’t make this up,” he said.

(A side trip in the conversation by Gural to the prospects for American Dream Meadowlands ever opening led him to call it “an eyesore and an embarrassment” – but he also said of the new neighbor’s customer base, “it has to help my business if that thing opens.” Gural again noted that the state has tried to help Revel in particular and Atlantic City in general as well as American Dream, “but I am the only one who kept my promise” and opened a $100 million new grandstand in 2013.)

Then there is what Gural called “the biggest joke of all” – the fact that Caesars Entertainment officials have opposed construction of a Meadowlands casino 125 miles from Atlantic City on the premise that it hurts the latter, yet the same company opened a Harrah’s in Pennsylvania just 70 miles away. He noted that in a recent year, the three Caesars casinos in Atlantic City paid $85 million in taxes on $908 million in revenue, while the Pa. property paid $125 million in taxes on $287 million in revenue (to be fair, AC casinos employ more people because they have so many more amenities).

A new wrinkle was Gural making a link to Caesars making enough money on a low NJ tax rate to fund the building of a new casino in Pennsylvania that hurts Atlantic City’s bottom line.

Another is Gural’s reaction to the Trenton’s Bad Bet ads pounding “corrupt Trenton politicians” as a reason to vote against the ballot question.

“When I first saw the ads, I thought, ‘Great, they’re attacking these politicians. They’ll be furious and they’ll pass the companion legislation we need that spells out the details, then we’ll win easily,’” Gural said.

Of course, that hasn’t happened. Gural, a philanthropist for progressive political causes, said that New York Governor Cuomo would have held a press conference the next day” decrying the ads and demanding action. That hasn’t happened here, either, of course.

Gural, after predicting a Phil Murphy election as Governor in New Jersey next year, said he’s sure there will be a Meadowlands casino soon enough because upon landing in office, Murphy will see a big funding shortfall and a need for a major new source of revenue.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and his predecessor, Jim Whelan, are convinced that New York will be plotting a Manhattan casino as soon as there would be a groundbreaking in the Meadowlands for a casino there.

But Gural said, “There will never be a casino in Manhattan –the hotel guys don’t want it.”

Gural is a MAJOR player in New York politics – city and state – and knows as much as anyone about the real estate industry, I’m inclined to agree with Guardian and Whelan – until I realize how much Gural knows about these sorts of issues.

As for Atlantic City, which would receive up to $150 million annually for non-gaming economic redevelopment if the referendum passes, Gural said, “They had their chance and they screwed it up, totally.”
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