Playing hard ball is a game that Governor Chris Christie is familiar with in the rough-and-tumble world of New Jersey politics. At stake is the future of Atlantic City which is now just a facsimile of its former self as the casino gambling hub of the Northeast. Atlantic City had twelve casinos, but in the last two years four casinos have been shuttered. As of April 1, 2016, three more casinos are in bankruptcy court and two others are on shaky ground. As a result, more than eight thousand jobs have been lost. Atlantic City is on the verge of reverting to its former status as a sleepy little beach town that shuts down for the winter months.
Governor Christie has been pushing hard for an Atlantic City takeover by the state. He believes that a loan to the city would just forestall the inevitable and would do nothing to alleviate the debt crises. With the city’s finances in deep trouble, a rescue by the state seems to be the only viable option. Problem is, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian wants a loan, not a bail-out. And then there’s the sticky problem of a ballot referendum that New Jersey residents will vote on this November. The referendum would allow gaming expansion in North Jersey with two new casinos being built. The new casinos would devote a share of their profits to Atlantic City to make up for lost revenue that the new casinos would take away.
Christie has vowed that he would make sure the casino gambling referendum will be defeated, so any potential help from the new casinos would be nonexistent. Even without him campaigning against the referendum, Christie believes that there’s “no way voters will approve the expansion of gaming when the only place where gaming has been allowed goes down the toilet. AC is headed for a disaster along with the prospect of north Jersey gaming if we don’t get our act together.”
So, is Christie having a little temper tantrum to get his way, or is he just playing hardball? Part of the problem is the fact that casinos in New Jersey are staffed by unionized public sector employees. Unions are strong in New Jersey and Christie knows that to have any chance of getting Atlantic City in the black again, unions will have to give. That’s not going to happen, so Christie’s Atlantic City takeover plan would strip the unionized employees of their collective bargaining rights. So yes, Christie is playing hardball to get his way. It would seem that’s the only way forward to save casino gambling in Atlantic City.