NJ DGE Director Discusses Health Of AC, NJ Online Gambling, And North Jersey Casino Referendum

Written By Steve Ruddock on August 4, 2016

[toc]In an interview with Global Gaming Business Magazine, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck talked about the past, present, and future of gaming in Atlantic City and New Jersey writ large.

Rebuck fielded a variety of questions from GGB Publisher Roger Gros, commenting on everything from Atlantic City’s current health, to New Jersey online gambling sharing liquidity with the United Kingdom, to the potential benefits and consequences of the north New Jersey casino referendum the state’s residents will vote on this November.

Here’s what the DGE director had to say on these important issues.

Rebuck: gaming in AC has “stabilized”

One of the more interesting topics Rebuck discussed was the health of the land-based casino industry in Atlantic City.

There was a lot of uncertainty following the loss of four casinos in 2014 (Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel, and Trump Plaza), and many analysts were unsure if the market had hit bottom, or if more casino closures were coming.

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In the interview, Rebuck said the casino industry in Atlantic City “stabilized” in the aftermath of the 2014 closure of four of the city’s 12 casinos. This contraction led to the DGE streamlining its staff.

But all in all, things are looking up for the remaining casino properties in Atlantic City, with the exception of the Taj Mahal, which announced its closure on Wednesday amid an ongoing worker strike. That property is set to shutter following the Labor Day holiday.

“We’re no longer seeing the revenue decline month after month,” Rebuck told GGB. “I think we’re at the point now where we see the casinos actually having a chance to compete against the surrounding states, so we have stabilization with the opportunity for growth.”

Rebuck’s optimism is certainly borne out in the data, as every casino posted operating profits in 2015, occupancy is up, and individually, most are seeing their year-over-year revenue numbers rise.

That being said, it could be short-lived.

Glenn Straub is planning to reopen Revel Casino, which would likely cannibalize the eight (soon to be seven) existing casinos, and there is also the impending north New Jersey casino referendum to consider.

Rebuck on the North Jersey casino referendum

The north New Jersey casino referendum is one of the most important (and contentious) issues New Jersey voters will weigh in on since they originally voted to allow casino gaming in Atlantic City in 1976.

Pass or fail, the outcome of the referendum will play a major role in the future of Atlantic City’s gambling industry. Despite the uncertainty passage would bring about (will New York counter with a New York City-based casino? Will the north Jersey casinos decimate or prop up Atlantic City properties?) Rebuck noted that the DGE is preparing for either outcome.

As Rebuck told GGB: “… we’re pleased to be able to support that bill, and we’re ready, willing and able to do what is necessary under the law to implement the expansion of gaming if that is the choice of the people.”

Additionally, reading between the lines, Rebuck seems to support casino expansion outside of Atlantic City based on his response. Rebuck noted that the chief complaint – that the bill lacks specifics – might be a cause of concern among some voters, but would be beneficial to implementing the law if it’s passed.

Instead of having to conform to rigid legislative policies likely written several years before the casinos open their doors, the legislature and regulators would have some room to maneuver should circumstances change.

Rebuck told Gros that because of the lack of specifics, “we’ll be ready to provide input and options if it ever comes to that point.”

On online gaming’s growth

Rebuck credits the addition of new games and products, as well as the technology improvements, (specifically geolocation and payment processing) for the growth of the legal New Jersey online casino industry over the last year. This continued progress, along with increased consumer awareness, will hopefully keep the industry on an upward trajectory.

However, if growth stagnates, New Jersey has some other tricks up its sleeve to spark interest and bolster NJ online gambling revenue, such as the proposed online poker liquidity sharing agreement between the United Kingdom and New Jersey.

According to Rebuck:

“We sent letters to our licensees that also operate in the United Kingdom and asked them to suggest ways we could include players from both jurisdictions in the same pool. We first talked to the UK Gambling Commission about how this would work and we both agreed it could be done with cooperation from the licensees.”

Image credit: Racheal Grazias / Shutterstock.com

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Steve Ruddock

Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.

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