Casino Association of New Jersey Pressures Chris Christie to Pass 5 Revitalization Bills
The Casino Association of New Jersey is putting pressure on Gov. Chris Christie to sign a revitalization program into law. The package of five bills was passed by the state legislature in July 2015, but Gov. Christie has delayed the signing of the bills.
The New Jersey Casino Association is a representative body of the Atlantic City casinos: Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Tropicana, Resorts Atlantic City, Bally’s, Caesars, and Golden Nugget. It represents not only the business leaders for the Garden State’s most lucrative land-based gaming complexes (compared against racetracks), but it includes some of the leading casino companies in the United States. C
aesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts are two of Las Vegas’s largest casino operators, while Borgata is the leader in Atlantic City. All sit on the board of trustees for the Casino Association.
“Clock Continues to Tick”
On September 1, the association issued a statement which read, “As the clock continues to tick while we wait for Governor Christie to sign the Atlantic City revitalization legislation, the price of inaction continues to grow and the fate of Atlantic City and the region hang in the balance. If this legislation is not signed this year, Atlantic City will lose approximately $50 million this year. That means the city would need to replace that revenue by other sources–presumably the property taxpayers of Atlantic City.”
The gaming executives believe Chris Christie is delaying the signing of the package due to presidential politics. Christie’s poll numbers are weak at present, because of the 17-candidate field seeking the 2016 Republican nomination for President of the United States.
Christie is seen as a moderate by the GOP in a year when the Republican base is angry. As Fox News often says, the voters want red meat. This is not the time for moderates, especially those willing to turn a blind eye to moral excesses. GOP voters are driven by concerns over socialist economic programs like Obamacare, while they believe Obama’s administration pushes liberal issues like gay marriage and invasive gun laws. In their mood, a governor who supports gambling might be considered morally-compromised.
The question is one which Democrats in the state have discussed. Several Democratic politicians have criticized Christie for concentrating on winning the GOP nomination, instead of focusing on the job he was elected to do. It’s a common refrain during a lengthy campaign for a new office, one which has been heard about representatives seeking senatorial office and senators seeking presidential office.
Details of the Package
The five bills contain a number of helpful inclusions for Atlantic City and its gaming industry. The casinos would have a 15-year time table on payments, with the taxes set at a fixed rate. Previously, taxes on casino revenues were tied to the level of winnings. Casinos would file appeals every year, costing the state and the gaming companies millions in lawyer fees. The new plan eliminates the need for wasteful court filings.
Another of the bills mandates health and retirement benefits for workers at the casinos. The benefits package might bring an end to the acrimonious negotiations between owner Carl Icahn of the Trump Taj Mahal and the union workers at the casino. Earlier, Icahn had won a court order to strip the employees of health and retirement benefits, sparking months of demonstrations.
End of the Atlantic City Alliance
Also, one new law would bring an end to the Atlantic City Alliance. The ACA’s annual $30 million budget would be used for other programs around Atlantic City, thus freeing the troubled municipality of part of the $70 million budget deficit it faces.
Debt Repayment Plan
The package also includes provisions to direct alternative investment taxes towards Atlantic City’s debt, instead of costly redevelopment projects. The taxes would be used to dig the city out of its spiraling debt situation, which has caused New York City credit rating companies to downgrade AC’s credit score numerous times in recent months.
Atlantic City Rebound
The details of whether Atlantic City can rebound are at the heart of many decisions in New Jersey’s near future. On one side, Atlantic City politicians and traditionalists call for the long AC monopoly on casinos to extend for many years to come. On the other side, prominent state legislatures, select gaming representatives, and visionaries call for the state to license at least one, if not more, North Jersey casinos.
Proponents of such a plan believe a Meadowlands casino would draw gamblers from New York City, while retaining gaming revenues in North Jersey itself. Opponents say that a North Jersey casino would be the death knell of Atlantic City’s casino economy. An economic revitizization might change the very nature of that debate.
Other issues are at stake. The 2017 governor’s race could involve a long debate New Jersey’s gambling industry, especially with gaming-friendly Ray Lesniak possibly running for the Democratic Party. Candidates in each party might find themselves on different sides of the issue. If so, then the 2017 election cycle could become a referendum on the North Jersey casino–or a great many other issues in the state.
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