I had an opportunity to sit down with David Rebuck, director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), on the day he was sworn in this past January. Director Rebuck, who had been serving as the interim director of the DGE, comes to the position after 23 years as a deputy attorney general (during which he served under 12 different state attorney generals), a career in higher education, and service for the prior 18 months on the staff of Governor Chris Christie, where he acted as senior policy advisor and was responsible for, among other things, working with the Regulatory Red Tape Reform Group. Rebuck assumes his position at a time when the entire regulatory structure in New Jersey has been dramatically altered, with many of the responsibilities formerly placed on the Casino Control Commission (CCC) having been shifted to the DGE. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
REBUCK: I have known Linda Kassekert (chair of the CCC) for years before I was sworn in and we’ve worked together on many issues and always gotten along extremely well. I have already held meetings with Linda, her senior staff, and the other CCC employees to make it clear that we are partnered with them and that we will cooperate in a professional manner as partners. I honesty expect that we will work together well and that any disagreements or tensions will be resolved without major problems.
While you were acting director, a whole new set of regulations had to be put in place consistent with the statutory reforms to the Casino Control Act. Your regulations totally revamped the approach to casino gaming, streamlined the process for approving new games, and made it far easier for casinos to compete. Can we expect more regulatory changes in the near future?
REBUCK: I have spoken to all of the casino heads and emphasized that I am open to any ideas they have to bring about further regulatory reform which they think will help them to compete. I’m going to listen to any suggestions they offer and proceed accordingly. I anticipate there is going to be another round of regulatory reform efforts, although I don’t think that it is realistic to expect them until we have had a chance to implement and digest the reforms just made. As the law evolves in areas such as internet wagering, sports gambling, and other exciting possibilities, further regulatory changes will have to follow suit.
Why do you think Gov. Christie appointed you to this important but obviously very challenging position?
REBUCK: Well, I hope it is because he trusts me to carry out his vision. I had a very good relationship with other members of his staff and the Attorney General, and he knows my personality and my style of management. I try to develop a consensus, listen to opinions, but at the end of the day I will make a decision and move forward.
You know very well the extremely competitive environment that Atlantic City faces today. What can the regulators do to help the city succeed?
REBUCK: As I said earlier, I push the casino operators regularly to come to me with any ideas they have for change, without fear that a proposal will be rejected out of hand. In the past, some of the casinos have complained that they have been so tied up with red tape and layers and layers of reasons why they can’t do something that they could not adapt to new conditions and meet new challenges. My approach is that we will maintain strict regulation over the industry but we want to make sure that Atlantic City can compete with all of the other jurisdictions around the country.
If you were the CEO of a casino, what would you do?
REBUCK: There are some ways our casinos and Atlantic City are already very successful. During the summer months and most weekends of the year, the city is packed. I think that the industry has to work on bringing people in to Atlantic City during mid-week. If I were a CEO, I would get the best marketers out there and coordinate with Liza Cartmell, executive director of the Atlantic City Alliance to bring in more groups.
Good advice. Any other ideas?
REBUCK: I think that there’s been too much emphasis on simply looking at the amount of money wagered and won every month. If I’m a businessman, I want people in my building because they are going to be spending money. Whether it’s gambling, shows, restaurants, bars, or nightclubs, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Revel is opening early this spring, but there have not been any casino hotels added to Atlantic City since Borgata in 2003. What sort of further growth potential do you see?
REBUCK: Obviously, the opening of Revel is going to be exciting for Atlantic City and for the industry. Revel has the opportunity to be the lynchpin upon which further growth and development of the inlet will turn. I am optimistic that the improvements in one area can spread and will bring about a better business environment and better living conditions for all the people of the city. There are good things going on in Atlantic City and people should know about them.