Commentary: Chris Christie’s gambling problem

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In between saying dumb things, like the residents of Margate are “selfish” and “put me in the ring against Vladimir Putin,” Chris Christie is running for president in part because he claims to know how to fix our sluggish economy. 
 
The problem is, Christie hasn’t really articulated what he’d do differently than any Republican running for president in the last 15 years. Other than offering the normal mumbo-jumbo about “reforming” the tax cut (which sounds nicer than cutting taxes for the rich) and getting rid of pesky regulations, Christie’s economic plan is sparse on details how he’d actually grow jobs. 
 
Well, residents of the Garden State who now have several years experience in the Chris Christie economy know the answer – gambling. 
 
During his tenure as governor, Christie has shown an almost addict-level interest in growing revenue from various avenues of betting. Unfortunately, the house always wins, and more often than not it’s taxpayers that have been left on the hook for Christie’s snake eyes. 
 
Online gambling
 
Let’s start with online gambling, which Christie boasted would bring in an extra $200 million in tax revenue in the first year alone, on the back of $1 billion in new casino revenue. Turns out he was way, way off. Casinos only took in about $111 million in revenue during their first year of online gambling, with the state only getting a fraction of that in tax revenue. 
 
In fact, nearly two years after online gambling was legalized, the state has collected a total of just $34 million dollars in taxes, far shy of the $400 million or so Christie was projecting.
 
As his former presidential competitor Rick Perry would say, oops. 
 
Sports Betting
 
As president, Christie would “enforce federal laws” when it comes to marijuana., but he’s cool to fighting them when it comes to sports betting. 
 
Four years and millions of dollars later, Christie is asking for a re-hearing after a U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals panel, once again, rejected the state’s plan to allow casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting in New Jersey. 
 
Listen, I agree with Christie that the 1992 federal law banning sports betting in all but four states is outdated and unfair, especially in lieu of the billions being wagered on fantasy sports. But the way he’s going about it is destined to be a costly failure. 
 
During the first attempt (which ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case), the state paid about $3 million to the Washington, D.C. law firm of Gibson, Dunn.
 
Instead of continuing this expensive and confusing strategy, why isn’t Christie willing to shift gears and approach the problem legislatively? Not only is their bipartisan support from New Jersey’s Congressional delegation to overturn the ban, countless other states would no doubt like to have the opportunity to legally add sports betting to their gambling offerings. 
 
But instead of showing real leadership and developing a bipartisan consensus (something he claims on the stump is his calling card), he’s pushing forward with another destined-to-fail court case which is bound to coast taxpayers even more money. 
 
Add the money spent by New Jersey trying to fight sports betting to the millions spent on the “Bridgegate” investigation and you might start to question which political party is in the pocket of trial lawyers. 
 
Revel
 
No review of Christie’s addiction to gambling revenue would be complete without revisiting his failed plan to save Atlantic City. 
 
Back in 2010, small-government Christie came to the rescue of the beleaguered Shore town. He initiating a Trenton takeover Atlantic City, which involved the creation of a state-run tourism district and the construction of a giant, now-empty casino that’s nothing more than a fire hazard.
 
The idea of adding a new casino to an over saturated market seems as laughable now as it did then. At the time, Morgan Stanley took a $1 billion loss to walk away from the half-built, $2.4 billion casino, but Christie went all in, promising $261 million in tax money to complete his now crumbling mecca which, ironically, sealed the fate of other casinos by sucking away their revenue. 
 
“I think that one of the things that Revel will be is a catalyst for additional modernization and investment by the other casinos to say, listen, if we grow more people here coming to the region and we’re offering something that looks nice further down the boardwalk, maybe people will want to look there as well, ” Christie said back in 2011, promising Revel would provide 5,000 “permanent” new jobs.
 
Fast forward four years. Four out of the city’s 12 casinos went belly up, putting 8,000 people out of work. Certainly all the blame can’t be placed on Christie’s shoulders; casino deregulation in neighboring states and damages caused by Superstorm Sandy hastened the resort’s decline. 
 
But Revel’s failure is all on Christie. He pushed it, it was the center of his five-year turnaround plan, and as much as he wants to blame Jon “I lost $1.6 billion” Corzine for the state’s current economic woes, he has to accept responsibility and seek help to cure his myopic tunnel vision when it comes to the mirage of increased gambling revenue. 
 
I believe the number is 1-800-GAMBLER
 
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Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe

 

 

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