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Government support for Atlantic City casino raises eyebrows

Banner August 26, 1997
Web posted at: 4:59 a.m. EDT (0859 GMT)

From Correspondent Jonathan Karl

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (CNN) -- A presidential commission exploring the impact of gambling may want to look at Atlantic City, where plans for a new $1.75 billion megaresort have created a major controversy about government's role in supported gambling.

At the casinos in Atlantic City, the money flows and flows. But now New Jersey taxpayers are about to put up the biggest bet of all -- $275 million to help fulfill the plans of America's top gambler, the Mirage Resort's Steve Wynn.

Wynn plans to turn a vacant lot on the Atlantic City waterfront into a massive new casino resort. To do it, Wynn has demanded big government support.


Atlantic City officials went along with it, selling Wynn the 150-acre site for just $1. Then, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman agreed to spend $275 million to build an expressway tunnel to the new resort.

Wynn declined to comment to CNN about the deal, but political leaders say the taxpayer giveaway will pay off.

"It's going to create a lot of jobs. It's going to create a lot of public revenues," says Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan.

Majority oppose plan

New Jersey voters aren't as confident. A recent poll showed 73 percent of voters oppose the plan. Among the opponents is the mother/daughter team of Lillian E. and Lillian W. Bryant.

"My biggest concern is that I don't want to move," says Lillian W. Bryant. "After being here 33 years, and at my age -- I'm 86 years old -- I don't want to try to find some new place to move."

The Bryants and their neighbors would have to move to make room for the tunnel. But they're suing to stop the plan. And they've gained an unlikely ally, multibillion-dollar investor Donald Trump, who's given the Bryants' legal fund more than $100,000.

"People aren't happy about having to spend $350 million on a tunnel that goes into a wealthy casino company's backyard," says Trump of his involvement.

But there are other reasons for Trump to oppose the tunnel. The new resort would demote Trump from the king of Atlantic City gambling to a small-time player.

Ironically, a decade ago, Wynn dismissed Atlantic City as a slum, but a lot has changed since then. Last year, the 13 casinos in Atlantic City grossed $3.8 billion, more than all 39 casinos on the Las Vegas strip.

With all the money flowing into Atlantic City, however, critics are asking why taxpayers should spend millions to bring yet another big casino to town.


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