New Jersey VLTs: On The Table Once Again?

One week after a spokesperson for New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey said a bill to legalize video lottery terminals at state racetracks was off the table, the issue apparently is back on.

Officials are now saying the revenue VLTs would generate may be too good to pass up given the state's $5-billion budget deficit. Some preliminary numbers the administration prepared, according to The Press of Atlantic City, show VLTs could add $200 million to $300 million in revenue without McGreevey having to raise taxes.

McGreevey will deliver his budget address tomorrow.

A bill to bring VLTs to racetracks was introduced Jan. 16 by Sen. Joseph Suliga. Two days later, a McGreevey spokesperson said the governor would not consider them, primarily because they would pose a threat to the state's thriving casino industry in Atlantic City.

One of the biggest casino supporters is Sen. William Gormley, the Senate Judiciary co-chair, who wields considerable power. Gormley, whose office is located in the Hamilton Mall (property once owned by Atlantic City Race Course), insists there will be no deal on VLTs.

"It's deader than dead," he told The Press. "And I have a track record on the use of the word 'dead' politically."

Gormley said VLTs would cut into the $350 million a year the casino industry raises for state programs, such as the prescription drug program through the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Last summer, Gormley got McGreevey to kill a proposed 6% sales tax on casino freebies for high rollers, and he won relaxed casino regulations and the promise of more state investment in Atlantic City.