ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. >> Gov. Chris Christie has a name for people who visit Las Vegas in the summertime: "Stupid."
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday to introduce the new head of a state agency tasked with revitalizing Atlantic City, the nation’s second-largest gambling market, Christie couldn’t resist taking a shot at No. 1.
"There is no reason people should go to Las Vegas in the summer," Christie said. "Why would you go to the middle of the desert in the summer? You’d have to be stupid to do that."
Instead, the governor offered an alternative.
"Come to Atlantic City, where there’s a beautiful beach. Gamble if you want to," he said.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman responded by noting that her city has this great thing called air conditioning and noted that New Jersey’s weather hasn’t exactly been all peaches and cream lately, either.
"A little heat with our state-of-the-art, energy-efficient, climate-controlled resorts is certainly much more inviting than having to deal with some of the weather they have had to endure in New Jersey recently," she told The Associated Press, referring to Hurricane Irene that battered the East Coast last week.
"Las Vegas is nirvana," she added. "We are the world’s top tourist destination with the best hotels, five-star restaurants, fabulous entertainment and incredible boutique shopping. We have beautiful weather year-round for outdoor recreation at our parks and world-class golf courses. I invite the governor to join us in Las Vegas for a visit. I’m sure he’ll have a great time, and he won’t have any worries because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
Vince Alberta, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, gave Christie partial credit.
"Gov. Christie is right about one thing: Las Vegas is the hottest destination on the planet," he said. "We’ve got the hottest clubs, the hottest restaurants and the hottest entertainment."
Christie’s comments came at a news conference in which he introduced John Palmieri as the new executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The revamped agency is in charge of efforts to make Atlantic City cleaner, safer and more successful in the face of withering competition from casinos in neighboring states.
A New Jersey native, Palmieri previously led redevelopment efforts in Boston; Hartford, Conn.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Providence, R.I.
Christie was asked what changes he hoped to see as a result of the casino agency’s work in the coming years.
"I would hope what we get right now is we exploit the extraordinary advantages Atlantic City has as a destination resort and a convention resort," Christie said. He added he would know the efforts are succeeding "when we start to see folks coming to Atlantic City in the summer because it’s a better place to be than the middle of the desert."
Atlantic City is in a fight for its survival against a casino market that’s expanding all around it. Since the first slots parlors opened in Pennsylvania in 2006, Atlantic City casinos have lost a billion-and-a-half dollars and shed thousands of jobs. Next year, Pennsylvania is poised to overtake the seaside resort as the No. 2 gambling market in the United States.
For those reasons, Christie and the state legislature enacted a series of reforms earlier this year aimed at helping Atlantic City get back on its feet. Central to them was expanding the powers of the casino reinvestment authority by granting it planning and development powers over wide swaths of the city, including the 11 casinos, the beach, the boardwalk and shopping centers.
The governor said he chose Palmieri because he has the right mixture of development know-how, planning experience and gravitas.
"I really wanted someone who could bring their expertise and their bearing, who would be able to impress people that he’s someone who should be listened to," Christie said. "That’s what impressed me most about John."
Palmieri recently worked at the Boston Redevelopment Authority for four years. He worked 15 years in Providence, most of that as head of the city’s planning and development department.
He did not lay out any immediate goals or initiatives during his brief comments at the news conference.
"I saw the opportunity to address a challenge," Palmieri said.