Interview: David Sirota on New Jersey’s Risky Pension Investments

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David Sirota has a name familiar to many on the left — he became known first as a Democratic political consultant, then as a columnist and radio host. These days he’s aiming for a different job description: Muckraker.

Sirota, now with the International Business Times, last week published a story saying that under Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey had increasingly invested state pension funds in high-risk Wall Street investments — often with politically favored firms — but without standard Wall Street results: New Jersey’s “alternative” investments underperformed the stock market by a total of nearly $6 million in returns, Sirota said.

Now state union officials are demanding more information, two firms have dropped the state’s bond rating in the last week, and Christie administrators are trying to blame Sirota for inflammatory reporting:

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Jersey Lawmakers Call for Review of Ray Rice Case

New Jersey lawmakers are calling for a review of a prosecutor’s actions — and possibly changes to state law — to discover why suspended NFL player Ray Rice was shown leniency despite video showing the viciousness of his attack on his then-fiancée. The video was released to the public this week by TMZ.

Rice entered a “pre-trial intervention” program after the incident, allowing him to avoid charges and eventually to expunge his record of the arrest. The process must have the approval of a judge, and Atlantic County prosecutors say Rice was treated no differently from other first-time offenders.

The Courier-Post reports that Senate President Stephen Sweeney “asked Acting Attorney General John Hoffman ‘to look at the law itself to see if it should be re-written or revised. This should include a review of who qualifies for PTI and when it is allowed.’”

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Another Report Suggests Taj Close to Bankruptcy

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The drumbeat of bankruptcy is getting louder for the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

The New York Post reported last week that bankruptcy is near for the casino. Today, CBS Philly confirms that report:

A source confirms to CBS 3 Eyewitness News that the Taj Mahal has already begun the process for bankruptcy and layoff notices could go out to workers next week. As of August, the casino hotel had more than 2,800 employees.

In August a Deutsche Bank forecast that Atlantic City’s gambling market will shrink from 11 to 6 casinos by 2017 with the Trump Taj Mahal joining the list of closed properties.

“I can’t imagine less than eight casinos down here. I hope not,” Taj Mahal customer Rob Handzo said.

Official confirmation is not yet available.

Christie: Sports Betting Is Legal In New Jersey Now

Bookies in New Jersey suddenly have competition.

AP reports:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued a directive Monday allowing his state’s casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting without fear of criminal or civil liability.

His action is likely to be challenged in court by the professional and collegiate sports leagues that fought New Jersey’s efforts to overturn a ban on sports betting in all but four states. That effort ended with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case.

Christie had seemed to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling. Instead, Monday’s order seems to sidestep it. The state attorney general’s office provided an opinion (below) suggesting New Jersey officials had the authority to repeal old state-level prohibitions on sports betting — as long as the state essentially gets out of the way of the betting — so long as the state doesn’t license those operations for sports betting, in violation of federal law. (In plainer English: The feds can’t stop Jersey from repealing its own laws against sports betting. It can stop the state from licensing those operations. So Jersey is choosing a path forward that lets people bet without the state having quite so much regulatory control over it.)

Long story short: Casinos and race tracks can take sports bets starting today. Lawsuits almost assuredly to follow.

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