Amid all the bad news emanating from Atlantic City, there is a significant amount of misinformation and disinformation.
That should be no surprise to anyone, as Atlantic City—and its nearly four-decade-old experiment in casino gaming—has always been ground zero for anyone looking to understand gaming and its impacts.
The greatest piece of disinformation is that the recent closing of casinos casts a pall on the effectiveness of the New Jersey regulatory system. The question that arises: If the regulation was effective, then why is the city having these problems?
Such illogical logic belies a serious misunderstanding of the role of regulators in general, and the historic role of New Jersey regulators.
The right answer was put forth recently by Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, who is also my co-founding partner in the highly successful East Coast Gaming Congress, now entering its 19th year as the premier forum for discussing the future of gaming.
Pollock was speaking before the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) when he made the following profound point about the difference in the gaming world of 1976 (when New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize gambling, becoming only the second state in the nation to do so) and the gaming world of 2015.
“Today, it is taken for granted that gaming licensees—both operators and suppliers—have met stringent tests to demonstrate their good character, honesty and integrity,” Pollock said. “Today, it is taken for granted that gaming companies could reach out to Wall Street and the financial community to attract affordable capital investment. Neither of those was true back then. “Virtually every gaming licensee in the United States—at the individual and corporate level—has demonstrated the requisite level of suitability. Regulators know this, and have adopted a higher comfort level as a result.”
Give New Jersey regulators the credit they deserve, and have earned, in helping the gaming industry shed an image of corruption, and adopt the well-earned reputation as an industry that places a high premium on personal and business integrity.
But many of those—from the founders right through to the present leadership—who give New Jersey regulators credit for leading the way in this important area, still wonder if the regulatory system is outmoded or counter-productive. In short, they question whether the rules have made it harder to do business in Atlantic City, that if regulators had loosened the rules further, the story in Atlantic City would be different.
Serious observers of Atlantic City know the fallacy in that argument. Atlantic City was a victim of the Great Recession, which caused numerous projects that would have been built to be withdrawn, never to be built. Atlantic City was on a path toward recovery in 2008 when the economic world exploded.
Much of that world has been rebuilt, but Atlantic City has not sufficiently participated in that recovery.
Of course, there is still good news to be found in Atlantic City.Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Don Guardian, Senator Jim Whelan and many other leaders at the state and local levels recognize the challenges they face, are willing to do what is right for the city and are willing to work with state officials who will be taking a more serious role in the future of the city.
I fundamentally believe that New Jersey’s regulatory system has adapted over the years and has evolved into one of the more flexible, responsive systems in the world—without sacrificing a commitment to maintaining the industry’s well-earned reputation for integrity.
Those changes—combined with that fundamental, unshakable commitment to what works—will ultimately bring Atlantic City back into what it could be: a successful regional entertainment destination. That is the truth about the regulatory and political systems in New Jersey. I consider that good news.