NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
MR. WHELAN: Madame Chairman and members of the Commission, let me welcome you, add my welcome to the governor and others who spoke before me. We're delighted any time people come to Atlantic City to visit us because that's what we do. We're in the hospitality business, and when we have visitors, it's a pleasure to come and welcome.
Let me say this is the first federal group that has come, but in all candor, you are not the first group of public officials or interested citizens who have come to Atlantic City to learn a little bit about what has happened here during the casino era, and it seems to me that Atlantic City -- we're a little bit like that ink blot test that we may be familiar with from our college psychology courses, where, you know, some people look at it. They look at the ink blot and they see a butterfly, and other people look at the ink blot and they see a cockroach. You know, that's a little bit of what our experience here has been with folks who come.
Those who come perhaps with a bias in favor of casino gambling come and see the butterfly, and those who come perhaps with a bias against it see the cockroach.
Part of that is because Atlantic City remains very much a work in progress. We'll have an opportunity, I hope, with some of you today to go out and physically look at the town. So we'll save those issues for then, but I think that it's important that we understand what gambling won't do.
Gambling is not a cure all. It is not going to solve all of the social problems of the community. It's not going to cure AIDS. It doesn't prevent teenagers from dropping out of school, and it doesn't prevent drug problems. It doesn't prevent, you know, -- it doesn't eliminate crime. In any case, we think it has reduced crime, but it doesn't eliminate crime, and so on.
But there's the other side to the story of what it does do. The short version of that is jobs and public revenue, and of course, when politicians talk about public revenue, we're talking about taxes. The reality is, and you have some of the statistics, there has been a huge increase in jobs in this region, and there has been a huge increase of public revenues at the state level, county level, local level, and clearly some of those revenues go to support programs that, in fact, attack the social problems, whether it's Youth Build, which you've heard about which I happen to chair, and our Council President is a member of that board; the PAAD Program, and so on.
There is a public benefit directly linked to the casinos both in terms of rebuilding Atlantic City through CRDA, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority -- and, again, we'll see some of their work today, and some of their work was articulated by Senator Torricelli around the state -- and also in terms of supporting government generally.
You know, again, we will see an $80 million high school 70 percent of which is being paid for by casino taxes.
One other point I'd like to make in terms of the benefits is the casinos are good corporate citizens. The myth that exists out there that there are bad guys lurking in the closets or under the beds of the casinos is just that, a myth. It may have been based on a reality back in the 1940s, that there was a mafia or a mob influence, but the reality is that our casinos are major publicly traded corporations, and again, as the Attorney General has indicated, probably the most regulated industry in the country, and we would suggest the cleanest industry in the country.
But beyond that issue of corruption -- that's just eliminating the negative -- is the positive. Our casinos, I would match their record of philanthropic and charitable contributions and civic involvement against any industry in any community in this state and, I would suspect, in the nation.
One of the questions that we get asked, perhaps not by this panel but by other communities -- we have newspaper who come in from, you know, communities somewhere that's considering gambling -- is will it work in that town. I don't know the answer to that. You know, in some cases it has worked. In other cases, it will not work, and what the dynamics of that are, frankly, I'm not smart enough to figure out.
It works here in Atlantic City. I think There are a couple of reasons that are unique to Atlantic City why it works here. The first is that we were always a resort town, and the truth is that we were always a resort town that was a little bit naughty.
The fact is, if you talk to some of the old timers around here, they will tell you that prohibition was but a rumor in Atlantic City.
MR. WHELAN: And they will also tell you -- you will hear people say, "Well, when we got gambling," and something you'll get corrected and say, "You mean when we got legal gambling," because there are those who would suggest that Atlantic City had gambling before we had legal gambling.
Let me close on two points. The first is that we have a rather selfish, narrow interest here, which is if this Commission were to recommend to Congress that there should be no further expansion of casino gambling, that's not the worst thing in the world that would happen to Atlantic City, quite frankly. That might force companies like MGM and Mr. Lanni and others to direct their investments to communities like Atlantic City and Biloxi and Las Vegas that already have casino gambling.
So we kind of have a selfish interest in telling you, you know, geez, gambling is terrible. Nobody should have it, and so on, but frankly, that would be a disservice. It would be a disservice to our community. It would be a disservice to the people from the casino industry who are helping us rebuild Atlantic City, and it would be a disservice to our country in that you have a mission from the Congress to go out and get the facts about casino gambling.
The short version is that Atlantic City would be dead without casino gambling, and, again, whether it would work on other communities, whether the job is completed here, the answer is we don't know if it'll work in other communities. The job clearly is not completed here, but Atlantic City is alive and well and making progress in large part because of casino gambling.
Again, we thank you and welcome you to Atlantic City.
CHAIRMAN JAMES: Thank you so much, Mayor Whelan.