Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, D-Atlantic, have major concerns about casino relief legislation introduced Monday by leading Democrats, saying the bills will divert funds from programs needed by the community.

Mazzeo and Armato were not part of the group that created the bills with Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, Burlington, even though they are of the same party and their district includes Atlantic City.

In an unusual twist, state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, was part of the creation of the legislation, working across the aisle.

The bills, designed to help casinos survive the COVID-19 pandemic, would give casinos temporary relief from a variety of taxes and fees, and offer state loans to cover their May and August payments in lieu of property taxes to Atlantic City.

Sweeney sponsored S2400 and S2398 in the Senate; and Greenwald sponsored A4031 and A4032 in the Assembly.

“I have not seen the full details,” Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said. “I haven’t spoken to the Senate president. To be fair to him and the Legislature, I cannot comment.”

But Small said his history has been one of “fighting for the Atlantic City taxpayer to get relief.”

“I’m sure the casino industry — they’re going to need help,” Mazzeo said Tuesday. “But we have some questions. If you give loans out of the Property Tax Relief Fund, what does that do to the Senior Freeze and Homestead Rebate programs, which regular folks depend on to reduce property taxes?”

He said the legislation came up fast and was posted just days after he saw a draft.

“We have to take a step back and make sure folks are really helping, not hurting, residents of Atlantic County,” Mazzeo said.

A lot of industries are going to need help, he said, and he’d rather see the state focus on getting unemployment payments out to the thousands of people who have been waiting for weeks for income.

Brown said he supports the legislation and is working with Sweeney “to find ways to put our families back to work as quickly as possible in a responsible manner.”

“It was heartbreaking to see so many of our casino families with no money, waiting in food lines simply to feed their children, because unemployment has been a complete disaster,” Brown said Tuesday.

The $3 billion casino industry employs more than 27,000 people, Brown said.

“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.

The funds for PILOT loans would come from the state’s Property Tax Relief Fund, according to the bills.

Other taxes and fees that would be waived or deferred currently fund the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and its payment of bonds for the Atlantic City Convention Center and Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. The bill would allow the CRDA to use other pots of money for bond payment, but that would take money from community projects, Mazzeo said.

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.

A CRDA spokesperson declined to comment.

“The concern is not that casinos don’t need a little help, but why is it coming at the expense of Atlantic City and Atlantic County taxpayers again?” said Mazzeo and Armato chief of staff Charity Jeffries.

But Brown said the casino industry was part of the discussions to develop the bills.

The PILOT loan bill gives casinos three years to repay the amount in full without interest, or face a 10% penalty.

If not repaid in full within another 60 days, the Casino Control Commission must deem the owner or licensee disqualified to hold a casino license; and the Division of Gaming Enforcement must suspend the operation certificate for the property and order it shut down.

The bill also allows the commission to place the casino property under an appointed conservator if it remains shut more than 120 days.

The second bill defers some licensing and other fees while casinos remain closed due to COVID-19, and for six months after reopening. The casinos would have 12 months to repay the amounts deferred.

Some fees, such as the annual license fee of $500 imposed on each slot machine, would be entirely waived from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, according to the bill.

No internet gaming license or permit fees would be deferred or waived under the bill.

The bill waives, for 24 months after reopening, payment to the state of $3 per day per parking space in a casino parking garage; and waives certain hotel room fees related to casino gaming for the remainder of 2020.

Hotel room occupancy fees of $1 to $3 per day would be waived for the remainder of the year as well.

This bill also reduces the casino gross revenue tax and investment alternative tax for 24 months after reopening, on a sliding scale based on casino gross revenue.

Under current law, casinos are required to pay an 8% tax on gross revenues plus a 1.25% investment alternative tax. The IAT is now used to pay down city debt.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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