Jersey City does not need a casino

I notice that Our Turn JC doesn’t bother to deny Paul Fireman’s intention to add another soulless skyscraper to a city that’s overburdened with them. Instead, the Our Turn campaign circular I just got in the mail assures me that Fireman’s gigantic proposed Jersey City casino won’t lay a glove on Liberty State Park. I’m not sure I buy this. Given its location — just south of Morris Pesin Drive — it’s hard to guarantee that a massive construction project would leave the park unmolested. Liberty State Park is one of the best things this greenspace-challeged city has going for it, so forgive us, Mr. Fireman, if we’re a little defensive of it.

Regardless, that’s not the real reason why Jersey City doesn’t need a casino. Jersey City doesn’t need a casino because nobody needs a casino. A casino is a poor tax. Casinos are designed to shake the pocket change out of people who can’t afford to be transferring any of their money to huge corporations and their owners. True, a private corporation can’t levy a tax directly — but casinos in the Garden State work so closely with can-shaking politicians that the distinction is purely technical. Gutless leaders love casinos because they’re an underhanded way to shift the burden of public finance onto people with the least amount of political clout. Grandma chucks the money into the slot machine, the casino owner rakes it in and adds it to the pile, the government takes a big bite out of the profits — and fails to address the tax inequality that continues to bedevil this state.

Casino construction would indeed bring new jobs to Jersey City. But so would extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to new neighborhoods, fixing the roads and sewers, expanding service on the PATH system, insuring that NJ Transit trains don’t jump the rails, etcetera. Many programs that offer benefits to poor people would bring jobs to Jersey City. Replenishing our transportation trust fund — which has been stripped bare — would do more for the state’s economy than a thousand casinos. There are a thousand and one ways to support local enterprise that don’t encourage addictive behavior or benefit ludicrously wealthy people at the expense of society’s most desperate.

Often it is said that casinos bring an unsavory element to town. I strongly agree with this. My problem, though, isn’t with hookers or two-bit schisters: those are generally just working stiffs driven by circumstances to unpleasant ends. No, the people I’d like to keep on the other side of city limits are the guys who run and own casinos. Casino magnates are some of the most loathsome, amoral individuals in the country, and that’s because in order to do the business they do, they’ve got to be okay with stripping the life savings from the bored/elderly and encouraging destructive habits in everybody else. It takes a special kind of person to be a casino owner. If you, like me, have no appetite for Donald Trump or Sheldon Adelson-types in positions of authority or influence, let’s agree to keep their no-less-ruthless imitators from getting a toehold here.

Atlantic City said hello to casinos in 1976. I am sure that the people behind the casino drive touted the economic benefits of gambling. Today, Atlantic City is a municipal basket case, a byword for mismanagement, and (still!) a playground for wealthy scumbags. Every shark in the New York City area descended on Atlantic City in the 1980s, and those bloody teeth-marks are apparent all over town. You may or may not feel the same spiritual malaise that I do when I walk around Atlantic City, but I’d wager you’re willing to call it one of the saddest spots in the Garden State. In plain view of some of New Jersey’s poorest, hungriest people, visitors are handing massive amounts of money to fat rich guys. It’s a sick parody, a cartoon version of heartless capitalism — accelerated, and exposed, as the exploitative wealth-transfer mechanism it is.

Gambling is a seductive vice. Those who push it on you try to pretend that it’s a skill game; a battle of wits in which you will triumph and it’ll be that loser over there who goes home with empty pockets. I have seen intelligent people sucked into this hole, lured by their own pride and their belief that they’ve got the system outsmarted. Sooner rather than later, they learn the same cold lesson every other gambler has: the house always wins. If it didn’t, there’d be no industry.

This is the nasty game that Paul Fireman has decided he’d like to play. It doesn’t have to be our game. Jersey City doesn’t need a casino. The Meadowlands doesn’t need a casino. The Garden State doesn’t need another casino. No place on earth needs another casino, so please, on Tuesday, vote no on ballot question #1.