Time for another Boston Tea Party?

Apr 13, 2004 5:44 AM

A guy you never heard of 2,000 miles away is threatening your welfare and livelihood. He wants to break Nevada’s stranglehold on sports betting.

His name is Louis D. Greenwald, a Democratic Assemblyman in Camden, New Jersey, one of the most depressed and depressing places in the western world. As a kid I always thought of Camden as the home of Campbell Soup, its huge sign seen on my way to Atlantic City each summer, but in more recent years its image has been a city in desperate need of help.

Greenwald has an idea how to help Camden and New Jersey, and, not coincidentally, its Atlantic City casinos.

He wants to challenge the federal government and get Washington to legalize sports betting for New Jersey.

"We have gambling in New Jersey," he starts. "I think we have demystified the notion of corruption in the casino industry."

Okay, Louis, if you say so. But he goes further. "We need to look at something that helps the casinos and, in helping them, helps us."

What a humanitarian.

Greenwald and his colleagues already have helped the boys in Atlantic City, big time, by making absolutely certain that the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway don’t get slots or VLTs.

In New Jersey, the casinos already get what they want, from governor McGreevey up and down the line. Politicians in New Jersey, Louis Greenwald included, don’t mess with the casinos.

The latest compromise will give you some idea of how much Atlantic City casinos fear VLTs at racetracks in New Jersey, and how far they will go to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It was worked out by the powers in Trenton and by George Zoffinger, the chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.

It calls for the state to give the casinos $92 million from the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees a 1.25% tax on casino revenue for projects throughout the state. The money can be used to fund future hotel and non-gambling related expansions, and it may ”” before the deal is signed and sealed ”” also provide revocation or at least a sunset of a current 4.25% tax on casino "comps" that went into effect last year.

The casinos, in return for that, will give up $86 million of that windfall over a four-year period to the state’s tracks for purses, so the tracks can stay competitive with those in neighboring Delaware and New York, which both now have slots at tracks. In return for the $86 million, the tracks are agreeing not to pursue slots for the next four years. By then, who knows what?

Zoffinger is pleased with the deal, saying, "This gives the racing industry stability and the ability to plan for the future without the uncertainty of where the prize money is going to be."

No arguments there. The payoff for dropping the quest for slots, which might win public appeal if it ever got to referendum, will enable Monmouth Park’s runners to compete for over $300,000 a day next summer, and the Meadowlands’ harness meetings to continue to offer over $200,000 a night. Those are competitive purses.

But back to Mr. Greenwald and sports betting.

Currently, under federal law, only four states are grandfathered for sports betting: Delaware, Oregon, Montana and, of course, Nevada.

Greenwald wants to test the feds’ resolve. "Let’s institute sports betting for New Jersey and make the federal government force us to stop it. I believe they’re overreaching their powers and infringing on states’ rights."

The last time that argument was heard they were dumping tea into Boston Harbor.

Greenwald, as long as he is convinced he can test established law, might try for bigger game. How about legalized prostitution in New Jersey? Neighboring New York doesn’t have it, and just think of the added revenue by simply instituting a westbound fee for the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and George Washington bridge into New Jersey, instead of only eastbound into New York City as now exists? Think creatively, Assemblyman.

There’s another possibility, Mr. Greenwald. If Washington says no to sports betting, there’s always secession.