Bally's Atlantic City

A sign on the Boardwalk entrance of Bally's Atlantic City informs guests that the casino, along with all others in the city, is closed indefinitely. 

As pressure to reopen smaller businesses across New Jersey continues to grow, the state’s top two elected officials appear to be moving at different speeds when it comes to restarting South Jersey’s largest economic engine.

A scheduled teleconference Friday with Atlantic City casino operators and state officials about industry-wide safety procedures and a potential timetable for reopening could ease some of the tension between Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney, but for now, the two Democrats are not on the same page.

On Thursday, Murphy said the casinos were “an overwhelmingly important employer and element of our economy” but added gambling parlors are “a tough nut” and are more complicated than most businesses to reopen right now. Murphy said that although casinos have an advantage with large physical footprints that help promote social distancing, the indoor spaces are not well ventilated and sedentary.

Sweeney told The Press of Atlantic City in an editorial board meeting Tuesday the governor’s administration was sitting on a plan submitted by the Casino Association of New Jersey and AtlantiCare.

“(The casinos) need to get back up and going again. They need to put people back to work,” he said.

The governor, when asked specifically about that plan Thursday during his daily COVID-19 media briefing, said it was being reviewed.

Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said his labor union, which represents nearly 10,000 Atlantic City hospitality and hotel workers, and the casino industry were negotiating a health and safety protocol, but were still discussing “the finer points.”

At stake are millions of dollars in state taxes and fees generated from Atlantic City’s casinos, but also nearly 27,000 jobs and countless other ancillary businesses that support and depend on the gaming industry. The American Gaming Association estimated a two-month closing of Atlantic City’s casinos could result in nearly $1.1 billion in lost regional economy activity. A Stockton University economic professor put the potential impact closer to $5 billion for all of South Jersey.

Murphy ordered an indefinite closure of the city’s nine casinos March 16. The governor has recently started to permit certain “nonessential” business to resume, but many of the state’s small retail and service operators remain closed.

Sweeney said the casino industry is taking safety and health precautions seriously and is working in conjunction with some Las Vegas operators to implement best practices. He said if Murphy or the state Division of Gaming Enforcement wanted to make changes to the industry’s plans, they should, but that any action needs to happen sooner rather than later to offset long-lasting economic harm to South Jersey.

Sweeney admitted that casinos were among the toughest “things to bring back,” but, with two consecutive months of record declines in gaming revenues, he said the industry was “in trouble.”

Gaming regulators in other states, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, have already approved and publicized reopening plans and protocols for casino hotels. Required social distancing and capacity restrictions, in addition to enhanced cleaning and sanitation policies, will be an industry standard in most gaming jurisdictions.

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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