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Casino industry releases wish list for new governor

By MICHELE DIGIROLAMO

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The casino industry Tuesday implored Gov.-elect Jim Florio to take a more active role in overseeing the seaside resort than did his predecessor, Gov. Thomas Kean, who maintained a hands-off attitude toward the East Coast gaming mecca.

'The state of New Jersey, either directly or indirectly, gets about 10 percent of its budget from gambling of some source,' said David Hanlon, president of Resorts International Inc. and chairman of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

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'With that much of an impact, it seems to me that the governor should be very involved in prioritizing, giving direction and setting some policies,' Hanlon said.

Hanlon, Trump Plaza Casino Hotel President Jack O'Donnell and two state gaming regulators, speaking at a gaming conference sponsored by the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, ticked off a wish list they hope Florio will address when he takes over the governor's mansion in January.

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The casino executives want Florio to form a regional body to oversee prioritization of the problems facing the city and the industry, such as the need for an expanded airport, the fate of the proposed new convention center and even traffic problems.

Hanlon also suggested Florio name someone to oversee Atlantic City's finances, perhaps through the state Department of Community Affairs.

He referred to an audit of city government funded several years ago by the casino association, which made specific recommendations to streamline operations.

'That report has done nothing but gathered dust,' Hanlon said. 'We think that should be reviewed again.'

Hanlon also said Florio should review the role of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the agency designated to rebuild Atlantic City. Although the authority is funded by casino monies, the industry has no say in CRDA projects, and disagrees with many of them, Hanlon said.

Hanlon also stressed the need for the creation of a gaming advisory board to keep Florio apprised of the issues and problems confronting the industry.

'Certainly him getting involved in the redevelopment of the infrastructure in this area is critical,' agreed O'Donnell. 'He's got to come down here and take a look and get involved. He has to be a leader for this area that he claimed to be in his campaign.'

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The Trump Plaza chief also complained about the regulatory ban on casino employees involvement in politics and urged Florio to lift that prohibition.

But most importantly, O'Donnell said, Florio must become the first governor to acknowledge that casino gambling in New Jersey is a 'good industry' and say that he is not 'ashamed' of the casino industry.

'If the governor takes this position, I think a lot of good things can follow,' he said.

Anthony Parillo, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, also backed the idea of a gambling advisory board, perhaps under the governor's Office of Policy and Planning or as a cabinet position.

Such an entity will be needed to deal with a 'full agenda' of gambling issues on the horizon, Parillo said, including debating the merits of sports betting, 24-hour gaming, Sunday horse racing and simulcasting into casinos.

The new administration also will have to investigate how much further entrenched the state wants to become in legalized gaming and how dependent it wants to become on gaming revenues, he said.

Casino Control Commission member Valerie Armstrong warned that Atlantic City must be realistic about how quickly Florio can become involved in the resort's future, saying there are probably a lot of 'wish lists' already in his mailbox.

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'We may have to be a bit patient, but hopefully we will get some direction and some vision and some guidance,' she said.

When queried about the casino industry's wish list, Florio spokesman Jon Shure said Florio 'feels strongly' about Atlantic City and will be looking at ways to help the development and economic health of the city.

Shure said Florio also looks forward to working with the gaming companies.

'Like other industries in the state, it has a role to play for the public good as well as for its own profit,' Shure said. 'Jim Florio wants to reach out to the business community in all its various sectors, and that's one of them.'

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