NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
MS. NORRELL-NANCE: Good morning, Commissioners, and welcome to the great, really great City of Atlantic City.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning.
I come before you today as a lifelong citizen of Atlantic City. Almost 20 years ago the citizens of Atlantic City voted to try an experiment that promised to revitalize a dying resort community.
I was not on the "bring gaming to A.C." bandwagon at that time. I was very apprehensive as to whether the gaming industry could deliver the promises it made.
Until about six years ago, I very smugly thought I was right and they were wrong, but recently we have seen some changes take place that has got the city moving, and today I can say that I support the industry because I can see how much it has benefitted the residents and business people of Atlantic City and the surrounding communities.
I am not saying that is the panacea for all that ails an urban community. I'm not saying that some mistakes have not been made, nor am I saying that every facet of the community has benefitted. I realize that some residents and businesses have had to make sacrifices for the benefit of the majority. These sacrifices have been very hard for some, but the majority rules concept is not unique only to Atlantic City.
In every city in this country that has been redevelopment, some have had to be displaced for the benefit of the whole. Chairman James and I are well aware of that, both having our roots in Richmond, Virginia, and being aware of how family members and friends lost their homes and businesses so that Interstate 95 could be built.
Relocation is part of the cost we pay for progress that will benefit the majority. But without a doubt, the majority or our residents and businesses have seen an improvement in the quality of life and have been given the opportunity for a prosperous future.
We have seen the middle class population throughout Atlantic County expand as opportunities for employment and affordable home ownership have increased. As a lifelong resident and current government official, there has always been one main objective that I wanted to see accomplished in order for me to feel that the gaming experiment has been a success.
That objective is to see grassroots residents be able to join the middle class, thereby having the middle class population of this city significantly increased and be able to be assured of continued growth.
In order to accomplish this, we have to be able to provide employment opportunities, affordable home ownership, safe communities, quality medical services, and excellent educational system and family oriented activities.
I am very proud to say that though we may not be where we want to be, the light is shining bright at the end of the tunnel, and we will accomplish this goal.
In a 1996 employment survey done at Harrah's to determine the impact that is 3,338 employees has on the Atlantic City economy through their purchasing power, as well as their volunteer and charitable work effort, and how employment with Harrah's has impacted the quality of life of its employees, it was found that 43 percent of Harrah's employees purchased a car, for a total of 1,611 cars. Sixteen percent purchased homes in 1996 totaling 592 homes.
I'd like to note here that Atlantic City, unlike most cities, has about 70 percent of its population as renters and 30 percent homeowners. In most cities it is the reverse. We are undergoing an all out effort to provide those interested in owning their own homes the opportunity to do so.
From '96 to '97, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority built 515 new homes. By the end of '98, an additional 266 will be built. The construction of these homes is complemented by attractive finance programs that make it easy for those who never thought they could own a home to do so.
One CRDA program offers home buyers up to ten percent downpayment assistance at zero percent interest. One-fifteenth of the second mortgage loan is forgiven for each year the homeowner lives in the home. At the end of the 15 years, the loan is totally forgiven.
The 123 Police Loan Program provides 35 loans at interest rates of one to three percent for 30 years to encourage Atlantic City police officers to move into the city. This loan program is designed to assist in creating safe, secure neighborhoods. Officers who participate in this program are given a new patrol car to take home and use during off duty hours.
The Harrah's survey also showed that 41 percent of its employees purchased a major appliance, such as a refrigerator, stove or washer and dryer, totaling 3,662 units. Fifty-eight percent purchased home electronic equipment, such as televisions, CD players, or computers numbering 4,420 units.
On the average, Harrah's employees dined out in a sit-down restaurant 2.7 times a month, purchasing 8,924 meals per month in local dine-in restaurants. they purchased 21,188 takeout dinners. They spend money on entertainment options, such as movies and sporting events, nearly 11,015 times a month.
Sixty-five percent responded that they have been able to get better health care because of their job at Harrah's. The Atlantic City Medical Center's new trauma center was built with funds from the Sands Casino. A new center city health complex will provide new ambulatory care and child care services for the city's residents. Included in the new health center will be several small businesses. The rents from these businesses will be exclusively used to provide child care scholarships for the children of local residents.
Since the inception of casino gaming and in preparation for the second wave of gaming, the medical center and its subsidiary, Atlanticare, have been able to provide a number of innovative and state of the art medical and social services to the greater Atlantic City population.
Sixty-seven percent of Harrah's Atlantic City employees responded they have been able to pay their bills more regularly. Fifty-two percent have been able to spend more money on groceries. Sixty- seven percent have been able to worry less about making ends meet. Eleven percent no longer receive food stamps. Fourteen percent have been able to get off public assistance. Twenty-four percent have been able to get off of unemployment.
Fifty-four percent have been able to improve their educational level, and 60 percent have been able to acquire new job skills.
The average Harrah's employee performs an average of 3.3 hours per month of community service. This equates to some 131,383 manpower hours of community service. Harrah's employees have also donated more than $816,715 in charitable contributions to area civic organizations and churches.
This, Commissioners, is the record of just one of our casinos. I could be here all day telling you about the charitable efforts the casinos have provided, such as adopting every school in the city, start-up money for the Atlantic City Community Watch neighborhood beautification programs, and various health and social service initiatives.
You want to talk about Points of Light? We could blind you with our volunteer brightness in Atlantic City.
If you want a job in Atlantic City and are willing to develop the work ethic to maintain the job, you will be able to do so thanks to the gaming industry. If you do not want to work in the casino industry, you can find employment in one of the many businesses that have expanded or located in this area to supply the services and goods that casino employees purchase in such large quantities.
Much has been made about the social impact that casino gaming has on the community. I don't see the introduction of gaming into a community being much different from the impact of other businesses of this size and magnitude have on a community. Cities that depend on industry often have to include new or expanding existing health and social services largely because of the environmental issues that occur. Communities that have tobacco and pharmaceutical businesses as their life blood also have to expand social and health services.
The answer to addressing these concerns is education and the financial support of services that can help to zero in on these concerns. We are by no means minimizing issues such as crime and compulsive gaming, but wise planners and government officials recognize that these issues will have to be addressed and put in place, funding programs that will help to find solutions to them.
The crime rate in Atlantic City has steadily fallen over the past few years, largely because of the incorporation of community policing in every neighborhood of the city, innovative law enforcement programs, and the careful eye of the Casino Control Commission, the Department of Gaming Enforcement, along with our County Prosecutor's Office have been responsible for making the streets of Atlantic City a safer place.
What often amazes me is the attitude of some regarding the so-called threat to family values and stability that casino gaming may cause. When families are able to pay their bills, invest in their children's education, prepare for their retirement, provide a comfortable home, and some of the extra luxuries that a stable job allows one to provide, families can spend more time stressing family values and be more like the traditional family we yearn to emulate.
In Atlantic City and other gaming destinations, the gaming industry itself has spent large amounts of money to educate and set up internal controls that will assure that under age gamblers, compulsive gamblers, and the community at large are aware of the consequences and the agencies that can help those afflicted.
I am still not someone who regularly frequents the casinos, but I am grateful for the jobs and other benefits the gaming industry continues to bring to my home town and the surrounding area. I bristle when I read or hear uninformed and biased comments that denigrate the reputation of Atlantic City. You can tell who's not been here for a while and who gets their information from media that is trying to sell its product at the expense of a city that is really on the move or from malcontents with personal or political agendas that do not give the true picture of what is happening in Atlantic City.
If it were not for gaming, I shudder to think what Atlantic City would look like, be like, or if I would have been able to raise my family in the place I call home. We still have a long row to hoe before we are the gaming tourist mecca we know we will eventually be, but I am very confident that the promises some 20 years ago are well on the way of becoming realities.
You see, we are caught up in a whirlwind tornado of change. It has flung us over a rainbow of new prosperity, and before very long, lifelong residents like me will be able to click our heels and very proudly boast, "There's no place like home."
CHAIRMAN JAMES: You always could say a lot in a very short period of time.
COMMISSIONER MOORE: Madame Chairman.
CHAIRMAN JAMES: The chair recognizes Commissioner Moore.
COMMISSIONER MOORE: I'd like to ask one question that sort of gets my attention. This $80 million high school, how many students do you have there?
MR. WHELAN: We have 2,000, and our high school, Commissioner, services not only Atlantic City but what we call the sending districts in other states and maybe our suburban communities of Ventnor, Margate, Long Port, and Brigantine.
COMMISSIONER MOORE: That's all under one roof?
MR. WHELAN: It's all under one roof, and it's a beautiful edifice, and we're going to go by there this afternoon during lunch, those who join us on our tour.
CHAIRMAN JAMES: Thank you.
Any other questions?
CHAIRMAN JAMES: Again, thank you so very much and we do appreciate the very warm welcome that we have received and the support that you've given us as we've tried to put this site visit together.
The chair is going to exercise a prerogative at this point and call for a ten-minute recess, and we will resume at 10:40.
(Whereupon, the foregoing matter went off the record at 10:33 a.m. and went back on the record at 10:55 a.m.)