NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
THE HONORABLE FRANK LAUTENBERG
CHAIRMAN JAMES: We'll now receive the videotape message from Senator Lautenberg.
SENATOR LAUTENBERG (via videotape): Good morning.
The first thing I'd like to do is thank the Commission for making the State of New Jersey the location of your first field hearing, and I regret that I'm unable to join you today, but I had longstanding plans that interrupted that possibility.
However, technology permits me to reach you, and I feel responsibility to get my testimony before you however we can do it.
Gaming has an enormous impact on the lives of countless numbers of people in our state, and as a Senator for New Jersey, I represent the tens of thousands of persons employed by the gaming industry, an gaming is an industry that's a major economic force in New Jersey, and its benefits spread far beyond Atlantic City to our entire state.
In New Jersey, it's a tightly regulated industry without a hint of scandal. Now, these benefits and the contribution gaming makes to New Jersey's economy and communities should not be contravened against the wishes of the residents of our state. This is not a place for the federal government to step in. New Jersey is doing quite well on its own.
In a statewide referendum back in 1976, the residents of New Jersey decided to permit casinos in Atlantic City. With strong majority support, our state constitution was amended to permit gaming. It was a reasoned and democratic decision that reflected the views of our electorate.
No one forced New Jerseyians to vote that way. They evaluated the benefits of gaming, and they made their choice, and as I'm sure you're going to hear from other witnesses, 20 years ago Atlantic City was a city not merely on the decline, but a city that most had written off. One of America's beautiful landmarks of the past looked like it was ready to be submerged into the sea.
As a result of that referendum, the revenues generated by the gaming industry in Atlantic City have provided literally hundreds of millions of dollars for projects not just in the city, but throughout our state.
They helped finance the New Jersey Vietnam veterans' memorial. They built housing. They've renovated day care centers, built a bus terminal and a trauma center. Construction of a world class performing arts center in downtown Newark, which we hope will fuel a renaissance of our largest city, was assisted by gaming related contributions.
The casino industry has helped improve the lives of countless of numbers of people living in the immediate area. In Atlantic City, the number of families on welfare, on Aid to Families with Dependant Children, has dropped by about 30 percent since the first casino opened.
The casinos have also helped finance programs. It helped troubled youth and has been a valuable source of employment for these young men and women.
And I'd like to tell you the story of one young woman. Her name is Tanesha. She was a 19 year old single mother on welfare, and she wanted desperately to break out of her dependency. A program that is called Youth Build, which is funded by the casino industry, helped Tanesha. She got her GED, and then upon graduation she got a job as a marketing representative with one of the casinos and now has been gainfully employed for the past three years.
And there are thousands of similar stories. More than $1 billion from casino property taxes paid since 1978 have lowered the burden on other property owners and supported schools in Atlantic County.
Taxes on casino revenues have supported statewide pharmaceutical assistance to the elderly, nursing and boarding home care and assistance with utility bills for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
Gaming is also an important part of our state's success as one of the two top per capita income states in the country. It provides jobs and opportunities for thousands of our citizens.
Nationwide casinos provide jobs for over 365,000 Americans. In Atlantic County, New Jersey, casinos directly supply one out of three jobs.
In 1996, more than 34 million people visited Atlantic City, more than any other city in America.
In the past some of our nation's casinos have been tied to organized crime and other problems, but it's unfair to assume as some do that these problems are inevitable. Atlantic City's casinos are the most regulated in the country, perhaps the world, and the history of the last two decades is that, by and large, this regulation works.
And I hope you're going to have an opportunity to review how New Jersey regulated gaming in Atlantic City. I have no doubt that you will be impressed by the fairness of these rules and by the professionalism of the regulators.
For the vast majority of the millions of Americans who gamble, whether at a casino, at a church bingo game, or through an office pool, gaming has its appeal. It's exciting, and if pursued in moderation, it need not do any harm.
However, I understand and I acknowledge that as with many other products and services, some people who gamble do so to an excess, and that can be a very serious problem. We need to continue education and outreach efforts to address the situation.
However, for the overwhelming majority of people gaming is a complement to a vacation or the equivalent of going to a movie on a Saturday night. It's recreation, and in the case of Atlantic City the tourism industry is making great efforts to expand and provide attractive convention facilities and opportunities for family vacations.
Thank you for permitting me to testify via video and for selecting our state as your first stop. New Jerseyians are very candid. They're going to tell you exactly how they feel about outside effort to eliminate or hamstring a major part of our state's economy.
I hope you're going to listen to our citizens, both those inside the Convention Center who are testifying, those in the audience whose livelihood you hold in your hand, and those outside this hall who have organized to express their strong feelings.
They're going to tell you that in New Jersey the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and I hope you enjoy your time in our state, and I wish you much success on your fact finding mission.
CHAIRMAN JAMES: I would like to offer the Commission's thanks to Senator Lautenberg for going to the extraordinary efforts to have his views brought before this Commission by way of a videotape.