NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
MR. LE FEVRE: Thank you.
Good morning and welcome. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute my thoughts to you today.
I'm fortunate to represent Atlantic City in the state legislature. In the last few years Atlantic City and Atlantic County have emerged as a flourishing commercial center and a good place to find work or operate a business.
You have already heard statistics that indicate the region's booming, and it's in large part due to the positive influence of the casino industry.
Casinos mean different things to different people. To some they mean a place to go and have a good time. To many others in this state and beyond, casinos mean employment. It's not a surprise that the gaming industry in this region is the largest employer, and it's no surprise that the effect of direct casino salaries and wages of $1 billion annually are plowed right back into the communities through the State of New Jersey.
Atlantic County heads the list of counties which benefit by the dollar volume of casino service industry business. However, the second and third in line are the northern counties of Essex and Middlesex, respectively, with a combined share of almost 20 percent of the total casino business.
These direct benefits of gaming seem pretty obvious, but I'd like to give you some examples of the good things, the human things, that are the indirect benefits of gaming.
There are over 8,200 approved vendors from all over the state that service our industry. One of them is AC Coin & Slot Company, owned by Mack and Kay Seelig. Their business, which is one of the premier casino supply companies in the United States, is flourishing, but their lives weren't always filled with successes.
Back in the mid-'70s, the Seeligs, who were born and educated in Atlantic City, were ready to get out, move to a better place. There was no business possibilities and no industry beckoned on a good deal, but something very important happened to change their minds and change their lot in life and make them stay. That was the casino referendum of 1976.
Today the Seeligs contribute a $4 million payroll to the economy and employ more than 120 individuals in their firm, from truck drivers to artists and sculptors of their work. Yes, the AC Coin & Slot Company is prospering.
But just as importantly, the Seeligs have made it their life to be involved in their community and help others. They have displayed sincere concern for society through participation in events, such as the American Cancer Society, receiving the 1996 American Cancer Society Silver Sword Award. They have lent support to other great charitable causes, such as the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Family Services, United Way, Boy Scouts of America, the Success by Six Program which benefits young children, and the American Heart Association.
Kay Seelig is head of ACORA, Inc., the foundation that started Beach Fest, which was designed to generate tourism and positive awareness for Atlantic City.
Another vitally important component of the Seelig's life is their philanthropic. Recently AC Coin & Slot Company donated gaming equipment valued in excess of a half million dollars to Atlantic Community College. This was done out of a sincere desire to help meet the needs of students preparing for entry into the expanding market.
For their relentless efforts on behalf of the community, the Seeligs have received numerous awards. Topping the list of the couple's recent awards is the prestigious 1997 Bailey Award given annually by the Atlantic City press which recognizes the positive difference made by these unselfish business people in the lives of the people of their own town.
Aren't we all lucky the Seeligs didn't move away?
Again, ladies and gentlemen, this is the human side of gaming, and this is just one example of what one vendor can do to improve the quality of life in the state.
There are other human sides of gaming. When the legislation that legalized gambling in Atlantic City was passed 20 years ago, the entire state was promised benefits to be derived from taxes placed on the industry's casino activities, casino lendings, and is sent to the New Jersey treasury. The taxes placed in the casino revenue fund which supports programs to assist senior citizens and handicapped persons.
Since Resorts International was opened in 1978, the industry has sent more than $3.8 billion to the Treasury. In 1997 alone, this figure amounted to 315 million.
I'd like to mention the two largest individual programs funded primarily by casino tax revenue because together they receive more than half of the tax dollars. I'm referring as you heard earlier to the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged or Disabled, or PAAD, and the Lifeline Program. You've already heard a good deal about PAAD and its critical role in the lives of our senior and disabled citizens.
I'd like to add to that one bit of information I received recently directly from the Department of Health and Senior Services. An official there told me that the department regularly receives letters from New Jersey residents moving out of the state who take the time to write and say how much they appreciated the pharmaceutical assistance they received in New Jersey.
But more interestingly, many times state officials hear back from those individuals with sad tales of how they can't meet their medical expenses in the state they elected to move to, and they're moving back to New Jersey. Only ten other states offer programs comparable to our PAAD. I think you can see why we're very proud of a program like PAAD and why it's another important face of the human side of gaming.
Consider the Lifeline Program of heating assistance, which is very familiar to me as an employee of an electric energy company. The Lifeline Program is also largely funded by the casino revenue tax and has an annual budget of about $30 million.
A needy senior or disabled citizen can receive $225 in just one year to help defray the cost of their heating bill. Statewide more than 140,000 senior and disabled citizens receive this assistance.
My employer, Atlantic Energy, can see the Lifeline Program in action regularly. Our customer service representatives receive calls every day from worried, sometimes frantic elderly citizens who want desperately to be current on their electric bill, but just can't do it alone.
When the customer service rep. can tell the customer their bill will be paid in full or significantly reduced upon the receipt of the Lifeline payment, the audible relief on the other end of the line is proof yet of another face of the human side of the gaming industry.
Since the current heating season began in October of 1997, more than 10,000 Atlantic Electric customers have alone seen their outstanding balance go down because of this assistance, and that number will grow in months to come.
I think it's important to ponder the possible consequences were these types of gaming funded programs not available, also how much our communities would lose if vendors such as Mack and Kay Seelig were not in the position to give so generously.
In recent years, New Jersey government has worked to enable the gaming industry to better serve the citizens of the entire state. As an elected official, I'm very proud to be a member of the Commerce, Tourism, Gaming, and Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee. That's a long title, but very important, and as lawmakers, we are committed to continuing to bring New Jersey citizens the far reaching benefits a flourishing gaming industry can provide.
I want to thank you for your attention, and enjoy your stay.
CHAIRMAN JAMES: Thank you so much.