Does Jersey City Need A Casino?

I have lived in Jersey City for seven years. It can be a labor of love. Snooki of the Jersey Shore cast briefly moved there. Hurricane Sandy showed me what a waterfront view could truly mean. Developers once tried to take over half of Liberty State Park , where I run every day.

But the final straw in my love affair with Jersey City could be the proposed casino just south of Liberty State Park. Paul Fireman, former head of Reebok International, is leading the initiative. He doesn’t like to call what he is proposing a “casino,” rather he describes it as “a $3 billion, two-tower resort called Liberty Rising that includes a hotel, restaurants, a spa and, yes, a casino with about 6,000 slots and 500 tables.”

I can already see the flashing lights just beyond Liberty Park’s nature preserve. Casinos and state parks don’t mix well. Look at Niagara Falls. When I went there, I wasn’t sure if it was a theme park or a natural wonder.

Thankfully I am not the only one who is aghast. Fireman’s proposal has been met with much opposition and for good reason; Jersey City lacks the infrastructure to support an influx of people and cars, casinos do not have a good track record for improving residential neighborhoods (think Atlantic City), and any tax revenues gained will likely be spent on the extra police and extra infrastructure investment that will be needed. This is a case study of what happens when developers think they know better than residents about what is needed in a neighborhood.

Fireman calls it a “windfall” for Jersey City. I call it a disaster. In November a state-wide referendum will be conducted so people can vote on it. Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City is doing the right thing by the people of Jersey City. He said he would oppose issuing city permits and zoning approvals to Fireman if the referendum does not pass with Jersey City voters (even if it passes statewide).

Fulop is a stand-up guy. That is not an easy thing to be. The gaming industry lobbies heavily, with contributions and gifts to politicians who can be friendly to their interests. A recent International Business Times article notes the often awkward position of politicians who accept contributions from the gaming industry, and then go on to take an official stance limiting gaming.

The article also cites how a scarce supply of gaming licenses (necessary to open a casino, which can only be awarded by government officials), can create an environment of corruption. Evidence of this was provided in a 2013 study by the College of Charleston which found “that corruption convictions increase in states after they legalize casinos and suggested that casinos are “more likely to be adopted in states with a ‘culture of corruption.’”

We already had Snooki. We don’t need a casino.