Imagine this fictional conversation in the Governor’s Office between New Jersey Governor Christie and Horseman Representative John Doe.
Christie: So John, you know how I feel about a casino in the Meadowlands at this time. I want to give Atlantic City a chance to get back on their feet. But let’s say hypothetically I was willing to reconsider this position, why should I let horse racing have slots?
Doe: Well Governor, how do you expect us to compete with horse racing surrounding us in New York, Pennsylvania and even Delaware without slot revenue? These states can outbid us for the best horses because they can offer bigger purses. Horsemen race their best horses where they can earn the most money which means we have cheaper horses which means less wagering, which means cheaper purses and it becomes a vicious circle.
Christie: I understand this, but WHY should I let racing have slots or a casino? By why, I mean what will slots do towards making racing self-sustaining?
Christie: Yes, I mean I see what is going on at these racinos. Before I became Governor, Mrs. Christie and I went to Philadelphia for a weekend. I shouldn’t tell you this but Mrs. Christie likes playing the slots so I said ”Honey, being we are in Philadelphia, why don’t we go to Chester Downs for a couple of hours? This way you can play the slots and I’ll kill some time playing the trotters”. You didn’t know when I was young, my father used to take me to the Meadowlands; you couldn’t find a seat there. Well, anyway, we went to Chester Downs and the slot floor was full and I was one of twenty guys on the apron watching the races. Afterwards, I called Governor Rendell and I asked him what the deal was and he told me. It does nothing to get more interest in racing. By the way, it reminded me of my old Liberty Bell Days…
Doe: Liberty Bell? You used to go to Liberty Bell?
Christie: Sure, a couple of my college buddies and I used to go there. Chester was exactly like Liberty Bell; well without the people. Whatever happened to Ross Hayter and Stanley Dancer? They were my favorite drivers.
Doe: Well, Governor, they passed away.
Christie: Oh. And then, I had a friend of mine who took his mother to see relatives up in the Catskills. He used to live up there so he went back to Monticello Raceway and he was amazed to learn they don’t race on Saturdays. After all, what kind of track doesn’t race when people can actually show up? Any way, he goes up to the clubhouse and he is shocked; compared to the casino floor, he tells me it was like Haiti after the earthquake. Let’s cut to the chase, slots are out. I know sooner or later they are going to end up in the Meadowlands, but there is no way I can get Sweeney to let a slot bill even get to the floor at this time, and quite honestly, you guys haven’t told me anything which should make me expend political capital to go up against Sweeney; the guy has been working with me on budget issues and I am not going to risk my relationship with him, especially if you are not going to do anything to help yourselves.
Doe: But Governor, don’t you know the industry nationwide needs the Meadowlands?
Christie: Stop it right there. Look, I feel sorry about everyone else, but my concern is New Jersey, not what is going on in Ohio or Kentucky. Tell me about New Jersey; how does it impact New Jersey?
Doe: Well Governor, you know about the report from Rutgers; how racing at the Meadowlands benefits the state economy in providing employment to thousands from the people at the track, to the grooms and people working on the horse farms all the way down to the vets and the guys who grow hay and so forth. What about these people? We need to keep the Meadowlands open and we need some type of subsidy to keep going.
Christie: Look, I feel sorry for these people, I truly do. But this state is in big financial trouble. People think I picked on the teachers because they supported Corzine. Look, I didn’t appreciate them supporting Corzine, but this is not payback. The state is in big trouble and by making cuts in education I was able to create some big savings, but this isn’t about them; it’s about you. What you are asking for is basically welfare. Well, welfare is supposed to help people get back on their feet so they can be self-sustaining. The NJSEA is hemorrhaging money. Why should I give you a subsidy and keep the NJSEA around for you? What is this going to do for you and what is it going to do for the state?
Doe: Well you are going to dump money into Xanadu and Atlantic City, why not racing?
Christie: Look, with regards to Xanadu, we are going to get equity in the place. If they get up and running, we make money. Atlantic City? If they somehow turn it around, we make money. Let me remind you, we get a cut out of the casino winnings; we don’t take anything from the takeout on wagers made at the track. What is the state going to get out of an investment in racing?
Doe: Well, we have higher purses which will allow the farms and everyone to keep their jobs.
Christie: Stop it right there John! You are basically saying nothing is going to change. For crying out loud, it sounds like the auto industry in the past. Keep throwing good money after bad. I mean, look at what they want to do in Ontario. At least there they are talking about taking 5% of their purse money to re-invent the industry with new bets, making the track a place to go to, and other things. They at least are trying to make themselves self-sufficient, what are you guys looking to do? Nothing!
Doe: Well, why should the horsemen give up purse money, why not the tracks?
Christie: The state is the tracks. We go out of business and we stop bleeding money. You guys go out of business and you head to unemployment lines. I suggest you start thinking about what the horsemen can do to help themselves.
Doe: Huma... Huma…
Christie: Look, why don’t you talk with your people and get back to me? If you show me that you guys are really serious about turning things around and becoming self-sufficient, then we can possibly talk about giving you guys a little more time; breathing room to turn things around. But if you are unwilling to help yourselves, don’t expect me to be bailing you guys out. Why don’t you look at what they are thinking of doing in Ontario and see if you can do something like this? Maybe see if you can get your buddies in New York and Pennsylvania to work on this with you.
Doe: Governor, how about if I get back to you in two weeks?
Christie: Sounds good. Then maybe next year I can show up at the Hambletonian and present the winning trophy? That Corzine never seemed to have the time to do show up, did he?