With the region’s primary economic engine approaching a third month of idleness, two bills introduced last month to alleviate financial pressure on Atlantic City’s closed casinos moved out of committee Monday.
The Assembly Budget Committee approved two pieces of legislation — A4031 and A4032 — that were crafted to provide relief to the city’s gaming industry, which is losing millions of dollars because of the indefinite casino closings due to the novel coronavirus.
The Senate versions of the two casino relief bills have been referred to the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. The committee has no upcoming hearing dates scheduled.
One of the bills’ primary sponsors, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington, Camden, said casinos support both the regional and state economies while employing thousands, and their closing “has no doubt cast a huge shadow on Atlantic City and New Jersey’s tourism industry.”
“The legislation released from today’s committee will work in complement to provide a fiscal path forward for an industry that has been devastated by the effects of this pandemic. A path that will help propel us through recovery and one that particularly aims to see Atlantic City get back on track,” Greenwald said in a statement Monday. “More importantly, these measures will help bring stability for the thousands of casino and gaming employees in this region who face an uncertain future.”
Gov. Phil Murphy ordered Atlantic City’s nine casino hotels to close at 8 p.m. March 16 to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. More than 26,000 employees have been out of work since.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, has introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber.
One bill allows for temporary changes to certain casino-related taxes and fees while amending the current law concerning promotional gaming credits by casino licensees and their deduction from gross revenues.
The second proposed bill permits the state treasurer to provide interest-free loans to casinos that have made their required payments in lieu of taxes to Atlantic City during the pandemic.
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, sits on the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee and said he supports both bills.
“We have to take these initial steps and develop a plan, not a bailout, to restart our local economy as quickly as possible,” Brown said last month when the bills were introduced.
Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, expressed initial reservations about the legislation. The two lawmakers were concerned the casinos would be getting financial assistance while the average person was struggling to make ends meet.
Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts, said the bills are critical to ensuring the casino industry and its thousands of employees have a path forward.
“This legislation will help stabilize this vital industry, support the safe reopening of our properties and help us welcome back employees and guests as soon as New Jersey’s stay-at-home order is lifted. This legislation will also help us resume our purchases from New Jersey vendors, as well as the tax payments that are based on casino revenue and employment,” Callender said in May.
Murphy told The Press of Atlantic City last month that although he was not familiar with the specifics of either bill, his “answer would be the same whether I read them or not.”
“I would love to help the casinos,” he said. “The will is there. The casinos in Atlantic City are a crown jewel of our state, huge economic driver. I want nothing more than to help them in their hour of need and to do everything I can to work with them to get them reopened, responsibly, at the right point.”
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti-Post contributed to this report.