Here is a riddle: Name something that nobody wants, but almost everybody wears, even though it rarely fits. The answer: a label.
Sometimes we try to label others, often with success. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was branded with the “L” word in his unsuccessful 1988 campaign. He used to say: “If I had a dollar for every time you (Republican candidate George H.W. Bush) called me a liberal, I could afford one of your tax breaks.”
At other times, however, the labels do not stick. Some people have tried to brand New Jersey’s regulators as “anti-gaming.” In fact, New Jersey is about as anti-gaming as Detroit is anti-automobile.
This, of course, brings up a serious question: What does it actually mean to be anti-gaming or pro-gaming? Surely, if you want to attack every legal craps table in North America with an ax –like a latter- day Eliot Ness – or if you want to put one-arm handcuffs around one-arm slot machines, then you might fairly be labeled as in the anti-casino camp.
But not many people take such extreme positions today. Even compulsive gambling experts do not seek abolition. They propose proper funding, responsible gaming practices and effective treatment.
Does someone who seeks effective regulation that promotes public confidence deserve an anti-gaming label? It would be fairer and more logical to label such a person “pro-gaming.”
Why? Because he has clearly come down on the side of promoting public confidence in casinos. That confidence is the key ingredient behind the industry’s expansion and behind Wall Street’s willingness (despite present turmoil in the capital markets) to fund that expansion.
The other side of this question is: What does it really mean to be pro-gaming? I firmly believe that the enlightened, experienced leaders of New Jersey’s two regulatory agencies are pro-gaming. That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they roll over to grant any request that comes their way.
Indeed, they do not. They ask hard questions. They want to make sure that what they do is in the public interest. Quite often, they must say no.
Still, they are pro-gaming because they make every effort to understand why the request is being made. They go to great lengths to appreciate what the industry requires before it will invest in Atlantic City. They are fully cognizant of the need to be transparent and consistent in their decisions.
I have stated before, and will state again that New Jersey is the reason why so many people around the world have confidence in the casino industry.
So, what does it mean to be pro-casino? Here are the necessary ingredients. You must be on the side of honesty and integrity. You must recognize that regulators are not your enemy, and that some level of regulation is required.
What does it mean to be anti-gaming? It means being on the side of secrecy, of putting politics above the public interest.
I am proud to be from New Jersey and to have played a part in the building of this industry’s reputation. Even when a decision does not go my way, I recognize that my client received a fair hearing. I recognize that regulators have a job to do, and they do it well.
Interestingly, as the current economic downturn deepens, and the numbers coming from most casino jurisdictions show varying levels of decline, Atlantic City has taken a beating in the media. But, when you ask the people who really understand the system what they think about the future of Atlantic City, they are downright optimistic.
For example, Spectrum Gaming Group – an independent research firm that has helped government agencies around the world to do their job better – remains rather sanguine about the Atlantic City market, which is their home base.
They believe that, when the capital markets get back on course, investors will return to a market that is stable, where the tax rate is manageable and where regulators understand the big picture. Does that mean that Spectrum or others who think that way are pro- Atlantic City?
No, it just means that they understand what it takes for a private industry and government agencies to share a common goal. I am in that group as well. Call us pro-common sense. That is a label that just might stick.