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Atlantic City casino employment down 21% in August

ATLANTIC CITY — The lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s casino workforce was evident in August’s employment report, showing thousands of people had yet to return to their jobs after the gambling parlors reopened in July.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos employed 22,352 people in August, according to data from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. That figure is 2,528 less than the industry’s total employment in July, with 6,233 fewer jobs than were reported in August 2019, a decrease of more than 21% year over year.

The employment report also shows that 5,771 jobs were listed as “other,” which has typically included seasonal and temporary workers.

However, this year that category includes a “significant number of individuals on furlough due to COVID-19,” according to state gaming regulators.

“We’re being careful and making sure we have the right demand before we bring people back to work,” said Steve Callender, regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc. and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey. “The last thing we want to do is have people come back to work and then furlough them again.”

August casino employment

The number of full-time and part-time workers both increased in August compared to July but were significantly lower (28%) than in August of last year. The number of employees listed as “other,” decreased by more than 2,800 between July and August.

“It seems most casinos are bringing back as many furloughed employees as they can, and some are letting the rest go,” said Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University.

On Aug. 31, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa laid off 2,295 employees, an action reflected in employment data submitted to state gaming regulators the next day. Borgata is the largest casino employer in the city and typically reports more than 5,000 jobs. For August, the Marina District property reported 3,128 employees.

“Borgata may have been impacted more than other properties since they have more of a nongaming footprint than others,” Bokunewicz said. “The food and beverage and convention jobs at Borgata would be among the most vulnerable under current circumstances.”

Indoor dining in casino restaurants and beverage service on the gaming floor did not resume until Sept. 4, so the August employment figures do not reflect a significant number of hospitality workers who returned to their jobs this month.

Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, the labor union representing nearly 10,000 food and beverage, hotel and sanitation employees, said about 44% of the union’s members were working before Gov. Phil Murphy permitted indoor dining to return. For September, he estimated that number had climbed to almost 68%.

“Thirty percent of our membership is still not working, so no,” McDevitt responded to a question about whether the employment increase was satisfactory.

Employees who were unable to return to work because their position was not yet needed were offered other roles, such as greeters or housekeepers, according to several Atlantic City casino executives.

Both Callender and McDevitt said most people opted not to come back to work in another capacity.

“There’s new roles ... and there’s different jobs out there, and we’re doing our best to fill those,” Callender said during a recent discussion hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber. “It’s been a challenge.”

Murphy ordered Atlantic City’s casinos to close March 16 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The casinos were allowed to reopen July 2 at 25% capacity and were not able to offer guests the full resort experience, which includes indoor dining, bars, nightclubs and entertainment.

While being closed for more than 100 days, the Atlantic City casino industry endured a $112 million operating loss in the second quarter of 2020.

The state Legislature has been working on providing the gaming industry some measure of financial relief in the form of temporary tax breaks, which would be used to bring back more workers. The state Assembly passed the legislation last week, and the bill now moves to the Senate for approval.

PHOTOS from the first day back at Borgata casino in Atlantic City

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Atlantic County freeholders approve leasing mail-in vote processing space for $47,000

Atlantic County freeholders voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to lease for $47,300 a large office space for the Board of Elections, where dozens of workers will process an anticipated large number of vote-by-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

The elections board recently announced it received a grant of about $150,000 for extra costs related to the general election from a private nonprofit, and expects it to cover the rent and more.

Right after the freeholder meeting, the elections board held its own meeting where it discussed possibly purchasing new equipment to help process ballots, and a lift truck to transport vote-by-mail ballots from drop box locations, but decided more research is needed.

Democratic elections board Clerk Bill Sacchinelli said the state is requiring the use of drop boxes in all future elections, and that any municipality with more than 7,000 residents must have a drop box installed. He said the cost of new required drop boxes should also be covered by the grant.

The elections board must spend the full amount of the grant by Dec. 31 or return unspent funds, said Republican elections board Clerk Sue Sandman.

At the freeholder meeting, new Chair Maureen Kern said she expected the elections board to turn over paperwork regarding the grant funds to the county at one of its next two meetings. The grant will help the county pay for extra expenses for this election, which are the result of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board of Elections Chair Lynn Caterson said the Mays Landing location was chosen for election workers because it is a third-floor space that will not have anyone walking through it other than elections staff; it is just five minutes from the board offices on Main Street, parking is free and security there is tight.

“The IRS is on the first floor,” Caterson said.

She said the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had offered free space at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but staff would have to pay for parking, which is run by a separate entity, and the space is not set up for offices. That means the elections board would have to wire the space using union workers at the convention center, likely erasing any savings.

The contract for the roughly 12,000 square feet of contiguous office space runs from Sept. 20 to Dec. 15, according to the resolution that passed. The property, at 5218 Atlantic Ave. in Mays Landing, is owned by 5218 Property LLC of Brooklyn, New York.

There also will be extra expenses related to equipping the building with phone and internet service needed so the board can access the Statewide Voter Registration System while processing ballots. The board also is hiring more than twice the usual number of ballot-processing temporary workers and has spent thousands of dollars on new computers and work stations and locked ballot security carts for this election.

Freeholder John Risley blamed the need to rent space on Gov. Phil Murphy and his order making the Nov. 3 general election mostly vote-by-mail. That order will force Atlantic County alone to process and count an estimated 120,000-140,000 paper ballots.

Only people with disabilities will be allowed to use the voting machines at polling places. Everyone else must either vote by mail or fill out a paper provisional ballot at the polls.

County Executive Dennis Levinson said last week he had offered space in the old Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, in front of and above the offices of the elections board and other county offices. But the space spans several rooms on different floors and areas of the building that also contains other county offices.

Caterson said the old courthouse does not meet the board’s needs, but she would have welcomed a gym at Atlantic Cape Community College or space in a county warehouse. However, the college declined and the warehouses were full.

“The total space (offered) does not come up with what we anticipate needing,” Caterson said of the old courthouse. “Secondly, we’d be talking about carrying ballots room to room, down hallways and up and down elevators” and mixing with members of the public.

Trump facing devastating debt load? Experts say not so fast

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump reportedly must pay back more than $300 million in loans over the next four years, raising the possibility his lenders could face an unprecedented situation should he win a second term and not be able to raise the money: foreclosing on the leader of the free world.

But financial experts say the notion of Trump going broke anytime soon is farfetched.

Even with a total debt load across his entire business empire estimated at more than $1 billion, they note he still has plenty of assets he could cash in, starting with a portfolio that includes office and condo towers, golf courses and branding deals that have been valued at $2.5 billion.

Based on Forbes magazine estimates of the value of his buildings, for instance, selling his partial interests in just two properties — an office complex in San Francisco and a Las Vegas tower that houses a hotel and condos — could bring in $500 million alone.

Trump’s true financial picture has gotten renewed scrutiny in the wake of a New York Times report this week that he declared hundreds of millions in losses in recent years, allowing him to pay just $750 in taxes the year he won the presidency, and nothing for 10 of 15 years before that.

But the Times report was quick to note that tax filings alone can’t help determine someone’s net worth. And several experts told The Associated Press that, while the true state of Trump’s financial situation is unclear because of a lack of public information, he is probably not scrambling for money.

At issue is the often wide difference between what businesses report as profits and losses to the IRS and what they actually receive in profits they put in their pockets.

Plenty of real estate investors report big losses under tax accounting rules and pay little in federal taxes. That is because the tax code allows them to reduce their tax bills with myriad legal loopholes and breaks, including sometimes generous depreciation charges that reflect expected wear and tear on buildings.

Phillip Braun, a finance professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, said Trump’s minuscule tax payments don’t surprise him, nor do the losses claimed. “His accountants work really to make sure he doesn’t pay any taxes,” he said.

A better idea of how Trump is faring, Braun said, comes from Trump’s operating profits.

Forbes, which has been valuing Trump properties for decades for its annual billionaire issue, says Trump’s 40 Wall St. office tower generated $18 million in operating profits in 2019, Trump Tower $13 million and Trump’s share in San Francisco’s 555 California St. tower $26 million.

According to Forbes’ latest valuation, even pandemic-reduced prices leave Trump with $2.5 billion worth of properties and other assets, and that is after subtracting his $1.2 billion in debt.

The Times said Trump’s real estate company has $421 million in loans he has personally guaranteed, with $300 million of that coming due over four years.

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to an email and phone call requesting comment. Trump dismissed the Times story as “fake news” and said he is “extremely underleveraged.”

“I have very little debt compared to the value of assets,” he wrote.

Among his lenders listed in his personal financial disclosure are New York-based commercial lender Ladder Capital, which is owed at least $110 million, and Bryn Mawr Trust Co. a suburban Philadelphia bank, which held Trump debt worth between $5 million and $25 million for Seven Springs, a New York estate owned by the Trump Organization.

Trump’s biggest lender on his disclosure is Deutsche Bank, his chief financier stretching back two decades. It helped him buy and fix up several buildings in New York and Chicago and his Doral golf club in Miami. It is owed at least $125 million, with loans coming due in 2023 and 2024.

One option for Trump is to get his lenders to refinance his debt or to take out a new loan. Deutsche Bank is an obvious candidate to help him with either because it has been so forgiving to him over the years.

Trump defaulted on bonds that the bank helped sell to investors to finance his casinos in Atlantic City and a bank loan for his Chicago hotel and condo tower, and yet the bank has continued to lend to him.

“If I was sitting at my old job and a Trump loan was coming due next year and he’s the president, I would just say let’s extend the maturity,” said Mike Offit, a former executive at Deutsche Bank who lent to Trump in the late ’90s.

But several other real estate experts aren’t so sure Deutsche Bank may be willing to lend Trump any more.

The bank has been subject to money laundering and tax evasion investigations in Germany and the U.S., and last year settled with the U.S. stock market regulators for allegedly violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by hiring relatives of government officials in Asia and Russia to drum up business for its investment banking division. In addition, its U.S. division has failed a few annual “stress tests” administered by the Federal Reserve in recent years, hampering its ability to lend.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Another problem: Not all Trump’s lenders are banks and other institutions that he can negotiate with across a table.

Nancy Wallace, a real estate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said that hundreds of millions of Trump’s bank loans have been packaged into bonds and sold to investors, and the banks are no longer in charge. If a borrower looks like it is in trouble, there could be less room to cut it a break.

Office buildings and hotels have also been hit especially hard by the lockdowns and travel restrictions. So lenders may not be eager to lend to Trump now, and selling off parts of his sprawling empire to raise cash won’t be so easy either, and is not likely to get him full value,

Still, “the real estate lending market is difficult at the moment, but for buildings throwing off cash? That shouldn’t be a problem,” said Bernard Kent, chairman at Schechter Investment Advisors in Detroit. “For something like Trump Tower, the future cash flow wouldn’t be tremendously affected by COVID-19 or people moving out of New York. Top-flight properties there tend to hold value.”

If all is lost, and Trump is really in trouble, some experts say there is another way he could raise money to pay off his lender: copy rocker David Bowie, who sold bonds that allow investors to make money off his music royalties.

“Trump Bonds” would enable investors to share in his future earnings from selling his name to, say, condo builders or purveyors of steaks or colognes or neckties.

“Trump has a brand that has value,” Kent said.

AtlantiCare expands family planning services in Atlantic City to meet community need

On Sept. 23 2020, at the Atlanticare Healthplex in Atlantic City, Assistant Vice President for Women and Children Service Line Sandra Garrett and Dr.Danielle Pierri discuss the expanded family planning services provided by their clinic. Dr.Pierri.

ATLANTIC CITY — AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center has expanded its family planning programs in the city with plans to offer services full time by 2022.

The services have been offered since December, but only one day per month. Since June, they have been offered every Wednesday. Services also are offered the second Friday of each month.

The services have been offered intermittently throughout the years in the city, but the hospital saw a need to bring the program back and offer access to services more frequently.

“We recognized that there is absolutely value to family planning services. There is definitely a need,” said Sandra Garrett, assistant vice president for women and children service line for AtlantiCare. “And we recognize that there is a direct correlation to the impact that family planning services has on the reduction of maternal and infant mortality.”

Compared to the rest of the country, New Jersey’s rate of maternal mortality — the death of a mother during pregnancy or up to 42 days postpartum — is about 1.5 times the national average. The rate in New Jersey in 2019 was 46.4 per 100,000 pregnancies, according to Diane De Lisi Timms, program director of maternal fetal medicine at AtlantiCare. The U.S. rate was 29.6 per 100,000 pregnancies.

In 2019, New Jersey had the fifth highest rate in the country of infant mortality — the death of an infant before age 1. The infant mortality rate in New Jersey in 2019 was 4.4 out of 1,000 births. The white infant mortality rate was 3.3 per 1,000 births. The Black infant mortality rate was 9.5 per 1,000 births, according to Timms.

In fact, the infant mortality rate is higher in Atlantic City than in New Jersey, Newark and Morristown, according to a Rutgers University study noted in a 2018 assessment of key facts about Atlantic City’s progress and strategic advice for its path back to local control. The study also showed that a child born to an Atlantic City family is nearly twice as likely to die before their first birthday as a child born in Newark.

In fact, women in Atlantic City are more at risk of maternal mortality than women throughout Atlantic County due to a lack of prenatal care and an income below the poverty level, according to the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative. Infant mortality rates also fare higher in Atlantic County and Atlantic City than the rest of the state.

As part of its mission, the perinatal cooperative takes initiative in training against implicit bias — attitudes or stereotypes that affect people’s understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.

“We are all guilty of being biased toward others for various reasons, known and unknown to our consciousness,” said Sherolde Hackett, project director for prematurity prevention initiative for Family Health Initiatives in Pennsauken, Camden County, a subsidiary of the perinatal cooperative. “It becomes an issue when those biases ... show up in an examination room or delivery room. Implicit biases can make the difference between someone being offered medication for pain or not. It can make the difference between someone responding to a complaint of a headache following childbirth and a woman dying because the patient’s report was not taken seriously. People die when implicit bias is incorporated in medical treatment and care.”

With September being Sexual Health Awareness Month, AtlantiCare’s Timms said this is just another opportunity for women to realize their bodies are “more than just a sexual object and that they can take control over that aspect of their lives by being open with their physicians and by knowing what their desires are and not being able to express that.”

The hospital also offers high-risk obstetrics in the city, which include offering care for pregnant mothers with preexisting conditions that can worsen during the pregnancy and in turn have an impact on the infant mortality rate.

“By getting good prenatal care and recognizing pregnancy-related issues, sometimes we can prevent a preterm birth,” Timms said. “High-risk obstetrics is important both for mom and baby.”

Services are offered to men, too.

“If a patient of mine tests positive for a sexually transmitted disease, for example, there was sometimes a gap in getting care for their partner, which was becoming a problem,” said Dr. Danielle Pieri, an OB-GYN for AtlantiCare.

The facility, which has five exam rooms, sees about 10 patients on a typical Wednesday. Patients can be seen by appointment or may walk in.

All appointments are confidential. Teens under 18 do not need parental consent. For family planning services, they are considered independent, Garrett said.

The facility is all-encompassing and provides testing, treatment, medications, education and contraceptives on site.

Services will be expanded to five days a week when the hospital’s new medical arts pavilion opens in the city in 2022.

“The access is really there because it’s not dependent on if you have insurance or that you’re financially able to afford the service,” Garrett said. “Everybody is served, nobody is turned away.”

Pieri said there’s a lot of misinformation about sexual health. Along with care, she hopes to provide patients with knowledge of how best to take care of their bodies.

“We have our hands in a lot of different things to try and help maximize the health of people who are trying to get pregnant and help the people who don’t want to be pregnant,” she said. “Then when you bring in other things, like educating women about their bodies, you’re touching on other issues. You’re empowering women to understand their bodies, to feel comfortable with their bodies and feel comfortable with their relationships.

WATCH NOW: Egg Harbor Township man donates pizzas to the AtlantiCare NICU

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