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Sunday, January 19, 2014

HobokenGate: My "casino" theory

"HobokenGate" is a pet name for the newest scandal involving Chris Christie, whose people allegedly withheld Sandy relief money from Hoboken in order to put pressure on Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Zimmer was perceived as an impediment to a redevelopment project undertaken by an entity called the Rockefeller Group, which was headed by a Christie ally, high-powered lawyer David Samson. Samson now heads the Port Authority.

In our previous installment, we showed you an overhead view of the area in question, and asked why the Rockefeller Group was so intent on developing the three blocks they own, while blocking all other neighboring property owners from doing anything with their land. What does Samson's group have in mind for those three blocks?

My first thought: Casinos.

When I first voiced that thought, I told readers that no evidence backed the idea. It's just a hunch. After doing more research, the hard evidence still isn't there -- but the hunch still won't go away.

Before proceeding, let's get an embarrassing confession out of the way: I've never visited the area. Even though I've sniffed the air in most other states in the union, I have yet to set foot in either New York or New Jersey. All I know of the geography comes from books, films, personal reports and Google Earth.

Nevertheless, I asked myself: Where do New Yorkers go to gamble? Atlantic City, obviously. But those casinos are about two-and-a-half hours away from NYC by car. It's usually an overnight trip, something you have to plan for -- not an after-work, spur-of-the-moment decision.

There are a few places to gamble closer by. The only casino within NYC boundaries is the Resorts World Casino in Queens, near the race track. The reviews here make the place seem downscale and uninviting. Example:
I would rather take a plane ride to Las Vegas and return the same day rather than come here to get my gambling fix or my "mini" getaway.

OK, the place is new, looks clean, and modern but it has a "Ghetto" feel to it. It's easy to get to from the city although it's about an hour ride on the A train.
Other commenters speak of downtrodden people on fixed incomes gambling away their rent money. Not a glamorous image; not the kind of place that would appeal to upscale types. Nevertheless, this site says:
The casino is relatively small, but has been extraordinarily successful, bringing in more money per slot machines than almost anywhere else in the country.
Clearly there is a huge potential market for a gaming establishment truly close to Manhattan -- one that would appeal to Barney Stinson-esque Wall Streeters who, after a night of carousing, could take public transpo safely home.

So I fired up Google Earth and looked at those three blocks owned by the Rockefeller Group. It's possible to take a "walking tour" of the place from the comfort of one's armchair, thanks to copious photos and Street View.

First: It's right near Weehauken Cove. A tall building erected on the property in question in that area would offer a glorious view of the Empire State Building and the rest of the Manhattan skyline. Even Vegas doesn't give you a sight like that.

The cove is surrounded by what could be a very picturesque park. Right now, it looks crappy.

As the crow flies, this area is less than two miles away from Penn Station. Yes, I understand that "as the crow flies" means something different in NYC than it does elsewhere. Still, this could be a far more convenient and inviting destination for partiers than Queens ever could be.

Although a bit run-down, the area surrounding those three blocks has potential. (It doesn't look as gritty as some news articles would suggest.) There is a large movie theater complex nearby. 

Let's get a good view of just what we are talking about:

I'm amazed that this area remains so poorly developed. The potential seems obvious, even if you toss out my "casino" theory.

Still, let's not be too quick to discard the notion. If a small casino much farther away from Manhattan -- in a rather dismal area -- has the best-performing slot machines in the country, what might happen here?

Obviously. my theory still has no proof. But is it totally off-the-wall?
Not off-the-wall.

Now get to work on discovering the connection to that $1B development project at Ft Lee.

Could Samson want to kill Ft Lee's development because it too might house a casino - one that would compete even more favorably vs the Hoboken area?

I don't think it's off the wall either, Joe. 2014 was the do or die year for Atlantic City. They've been losing mega business and dollars to Pennsylvania and Delaware. That means lost tax revenues for the Gov. Placing a casino close to NYC and all the revenues that could generate? What a bonanza!

As they always say: follow the money, the Big Money.

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