Monday, November 7, 2011

The Long Walk Home

Someone much smarter than I am (talk about a line so long that both its beginning and its end are impossible to discern from whatever your location in it might be) observed that it is the exception that proves the rule. As a rule in this space I do not discuss politics. You have yours. I have mine. To each his own.

Time and again, I bend - if not break entirely - that rule. Today is one such occasion. I think it is warranted. You might disagree. Opinions, much like politics, belong to the holder. I might point out at this juncture to whom the byline on this little piece of real estate belongs. If you are looking for your name, then look harder. It is down in the lower right-hand corner, crosshairs and perpendicular to the box entitled, "Suggestions".

Tomorrow is Election Day. All throughout the State of Concrete Gardens people will go to the polls. In addition to statewide, countywide and local races, New Jersey's voters shall be asked to vote upon Public Question #1.

Public Question #1 on the ballot is "the New Jersey Sports Betting Amendment". Full disclosure dictates that you doing the reading be told by me doing the writing that the driving force behind this amendment - and the placement of this issue on the ballot as a public referendum - is the Firm's Senior Partner. He is a State Senator, a Democrat who represents a District in Union County. He is also my boss.

Here is Question #1 as it shall appear on the ballot:

"Shall the amendment to Article IV, Section VII, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, agreed to by the Legislature, providing that it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law wagering at casinos or gambling houses in Atlantic City and at current or former running and harness horse racetracks on the results of professional, certain college, or amateur sport or athletic events, be approved?"

Its interpretative statement reads as follows:

This constitutional amendment would authorize the Legislature to pass laws allowing sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and at racetracks. Wagers could be placed on professional, certain college, or amateur sport or athletic events. However, wagers could not be placed on college games that take place in New Jersey or in which a New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the game takes place. A wager could be placed at a casino or racetrack either in-person or from any other location through an account wagering system that uses telephone, Internet or other means.

One could take the position that everything one needs to know about how important a "Yes" vote on this particular Question is can be gleaned from the fact that Governor Christie, a Republican who has waged some pretty heated battles with his Democratic counterparts in the State Legislature thus far in his term, has publicly declared his support for it. While it is true that at one time he did not support it, at a press conference last week Governor Christie confirmed his intention to vote "Yes" on Question #1:

“For those concerned what I’m going to do, I’m voting yes,” Christie said in advance of the statewide nonbinding referendum in Tuesday’s elections to allow sports betting.

“I think it’s important for New Jersey to have this option. I don’t think it’s fair that it’s restricted to just a few states. Gaming is surrounding us everywhere.”

Indeed it is. While the referendum on which we the people of the State of New Jersey is non-binding inasmuch as a federal law would have to be repealed or overturned in order to facilitate the plan, it is an essential first step. Pardon the dramatics here but absent this first step we shall take no further steps in support of this undertaking. And given the landscape around New Jersey and its ever tightening, noose-like quality, standing still is simply not an option. When the status quo will kill you, there is little risk in going forward. One could argue that it is our only option. And from where I am sitting, I believe that argument to be correct.

New Jersey has been - much like the other 49 states with whom we are united - turned into a State of Perpetual Bleeding these past few years. People are hurting everywhere you look - irrespective of the county they live in, the color of their skin or their political affiliation. The words Bruce Springsteen sang in "Long Walk Home" ring true statewide:

In town I pass Sal's grocery
Barber shop on South Street
I looked in their faces
They're all rank strangers to me
Well Veteran's Hall high upon the hill
Stood silent and alone
The diner was shuttered and boarded
With a sign that just said "gone"

It's gonna be a long walk home
Hey pretty darling, don't wait up for me
Gonna be a long walk home
Hey pretty darling, don't wait up for me
Gonna be a long walk home
It's gonna be a long walk home

Coincidentally, the Governor, the Senator and I share a devotion to Springsteen and his music. It is not however because of this common denominator (important as it may be under different circumstances) that I am voting, "Yes" to Question #1 tomorrow and urging all I know to do likewise. It is because of Tom Swales.

Tom Swales is a man I have known most of my life. Tom is many things, all of them are good. One thing he is not now and has never been is an alarmist. Chicken Little and Tom Swales shall never be mistaken for one another. Tom is a horseman. His family owns Tee-N-Jay Farms in Monroe Township and its thoroughbreds compete regularly and win (probably not as often as Tom would like) at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

Tom, the non-alarmist, educated me more than a little bit about what New Jersey gains from our horse racing industry. Educating me is always a challenge. I am not a bright man on most subjects, including horse racing. It is not unfair to say that I know nothing about it at all save for the number of races that comprise the Triple Crown.

Horse racing in New Jersey is responsible for more than 170,000 acres of open space. Perhaps more important than the industry's role in helping make sure that our children and grandchildren will be able to respirate without the use of equipment is its role in our state's economy. Horse racing generates more than $100 million in state and local tax revenue annually and generates over $1.1 billion per year for the state’s economy. Not too shabby.

So what does voting "Yes" on Question #1 have to do with the future of horse racing in New Jersey? According to Tom, everything. In a recent Letter to the Editor he wrote to the Star-Ledger, which appeared on November 2, he explained the cause and effect:

The final nail in New Jersey’s gaming coffin was hammered in on Oct. 28 when Genting Resorts World Casino officially opened its doors at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York. The new casino opened with 2,480 video lottery slot machines and electronic games, including baccarat, craps and roulette. They expect to expand to 5,000 machines by Dec. 1.

New Jersey legislators have sat on their hands while casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York cannibalized Atlantic City and our state’s racetracks. How do we stop the bleeding?

New Jersey must pass Public Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot to allow sports betting at the Atlantic City casinos, the state’s racetracks and online. Then, our legislators must work arduously to overturn the federal ban on sports betting.

Most important, it is time to bring casino gaming to the Meadowlands. Atlantic City must become a gaming destination and, in order for that to happen, revenue from a casino in the Meadowlands would be funneled to clean up Atlantic City, expand the airport and make it a more secure place to visit.

Another piece of the pie would go to increase purses at the racetracks, along with a slice to the state’s breeders. Don’t do this and racing is finished in New Jersey, and along with it goes thousands of acres of farmland and more than $130 million in tax revenue.

Well now everything dies baby that's a fact But maybe everything that dies someday comes back. Is it worth gambling an important piece of our economic future on a "Maybe"? If you think the answer to that question is "No", then tomorrow be certain to vote "Yes" on Question #1. As the powers that be on both sides of the aisle in Trenton have demonstrated, this is not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing. It is a Jersey thing.


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