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Whelan, Burzichelli to Lead Open Exchange of Ideas with Industry Stakeholders, Promises Open & Transparent Review of Governor’s Task Force Recommendations

TRENTON — Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver today announced that Senator Jim Whelan and Assemblyman John Burzichelli will lead public talks beginning early next month to review the anticipated findings of a gubernatorial task force and craft comprehensive solutions for ensuring the long-term viability of the state’s struggling gaming and entertainment industries that can by passed by the end of the year.

The August gaming summit will bring together lawmakers, industry leaders and policy experts to publicly examine the recommendations of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Gaming, Sports and Entertainment. The summit’s date would coincide with the expected public release of the commission’s final report, which had originally been due June 30 but was subsequently pushed to August 1.

“Our casinos and race tracks are much more than just places for people to go to pass the time and put down a few bucks, they are major economic drivers that cannot be allowed to flounder,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “Billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs literally hang on this report. No one knows better than Jim Whelan that we must get the pieces together now to go through that plan line by line and craft the legislation we will need to protect this vital industry. The Governor’s task force may have gotten an extension to write their plan, but we need to give this the priority status its been lacking.”

“New Jersey’s gaming industry — whether it be casinos or racetracks — is the lifeblood of many programs that are vital to senior citizens and people with disabilities, but it is also vital also to our statewide economy through the jobs and economic development it creates,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “Yet we also know this industry is facing ever-increasing competition, especially from neighboring states, and the longer we wait to devise solutions the more at risk we put our own gaming industry. Assemblyman Burzichelli has been a leader on this issue for years and I am confident his knowledge, wisdom and guidance will help bring us a plan that makes sense and will ensure New Jersey remains a leader in this industry for years to come.”

Sweeney and Oliver said the summit would promise a fully open and transparent public hearing to review the commission’s work, as its own hearings were not public.

“This summit will be an open and public process that will gather input from everyone who wants to contribute,” Oliver said. “This issue is too important to this state and needs a full public airing.”

“The Governor should be applauded for forming this commission, but now we need to provide the full disclosure that’s been lacking over the past five months,” said Sweeney. “We need to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounded the commission’s work.”

Sweeney, who will sit on the summit, asked Whelan (D-Atlantic) to lead the talks because of his deep knowledge of the industry through his current role as chairman of the Senate’s gaming committee and his also being former mayor of Atlantic City. In addition, Sweeney named Senators Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland) to the panel.

Oliver, who will also join the summit, named Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem) to helm the Assembly Democratic side. Burzichelli has been a leader on the issue for years and is chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee.

Also named to the sit on the summit were Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen) and Assembly Tourism and Arts Chairman Matthew W. Milam (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic), all of whom have keen interest in the issue and have sponsored legislation related to it.

Sweeney and Oliver said they wants the summit to focus on solutions that could be implemented legislatively by year’s end.

Revenues at Atlantic City’s casinos have been decreasing steadily due to the effects of the recent recession and intense new competition from out-of-state. New Jersey’s horse-racing industry similarly has been hit hard in recent years, despite the early signs of success from Monmouth Park’s truncated meet schedule this season. Tax receipts from New Jersey’s gaming industry largely go to supporting state programs that benefit senior citizens.

“The end goal here is a gaming industry that outshines the competition and gives New Jersey the edge, attracting investment from throughout the world to benefit our residents,” Oliver said. “The governor’s commission is no doubt working hard on its plan, but we need to make sure it’s a quality plan and that it doesn’t get quickly forgotten.”

“A healthy gaming industry isn’t just good for the people who work at our casinos and racetracks, it’s good for the New Jerseyans who rely on programs that these revenues pay for,” said Sweeney. “This report, late as it’s coming, simply cannot be allowed to gather a speck of dust.”

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