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Atlantic City: The New Las Vegas?

Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 4)

The senator then explains how to go about convincing legislators and voters -- both Democrats and Republicans -- that what's good for the casinos is good for New Jersey. "What you try to do is come up with programs that have the support of multiple interest groups because they will all be advantaged by them," he says. "I know what it means politically if I generate a billion dollars in more construction for Atlantic City. But if I want to get something done for my district, I start with the needs of other areas." That means giving Newark, controlled by Mayor Sharpe James and the Democrats, a piece of casino revenue taxes and maybe even encouraging casino operators to invest in commercial projects there.

Then it's a matter of tying both ends -- casinos and constituencies -- together. So under the CRDA, the casino operators decide in which communities and even in which projects to invest their tax rebates. "We're putting the industry directly in touch with the towns, without any intermediaries or lobbyists," says Gormley. "It's good for the casino operators because people in the rest of the state see that they are just like first-rate executives in any other business and are willing to invest their tax dollars to improve neglected downtown districts."

Allowing the casino operators to bypass a local mayor and choose how their money will be spent in a community might have turned out to be a hard sell politically. But it helped that Atlantic City, the largest beneficiary of casino largesse, agreed to go along from the beginning of the reinvestment development authority. "Would I rather that the city handle those funds directly?" asks Mayor James Whelan, the independent who has governed Atlantic City since 1990. "Sure I would. But you have to realize what our history has been like." Any recent historical account of Atlantic City would have to prominently mention that four of the previous six mayors ended their careers in disgrace, with several facing criminal charges. "It's not a record any town would be proud of," says Whelan.

Initially casino operators themselves weren't delighted at the prospect of having to take the time to focus on urban renewal projects. But the greater a casino's input, the more it can tailor a project to its benefit. "Take the example of the Trump Taj Mahal," says Whelan. "A couple of years ago, somebody from out of town might have driven to the casino through a couple blocks of abandoned buildings and said, ëLet's get out of this neighborhood.' Obviously, the Taj wanted to see its money used to improve those blocks. Trump's customers are happy. Instead of saying, ëLock the doors,' it's like, 'Wow, this is nice!'"

Back inside the Taj, Tom Fiore is talking again about some of his high-roller customers. "Yes, there are guys who don't know when to stop, and go broke," he says. "But you have players who win as much as they lose." His favorite story is about a 94-year-old who was so cranky that he would walk up to a blackjack table that had been set aside for him and throw the "reserved" sign at the dealer. In an attempt to please him, Fiore once had his favorite meal ready the moment he arrived for dinner. "And would you believe it, he still yells, 'Hey, what's with the service?'" says Fiore. "Anyway, the guy wins $80,000 and he dies in his sleep the next day. Beautiful way to go."

Meanwhile, Friday the 13th is proving unlucky for Harry. At 11 p.m., his stacks of chips are gone. As he collects his Derek Jeter memento and gets ready for the comforts of his penthouse suite, a tall blond at the craps table asks how she can get a Jeter ball. "You just have to lose $100,000," says Harry.


Jonathan Kandell is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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