Funny how things work out. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first summer season that starts with Atlantic City letting people carry alcoholic beverages outside in the tourist areas. And for the city, anyway, it surely won’t be the last.
The state Assembly recently approved, unanimously, a bill that would allow the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to regulate alcohol consumption in public in the resort. It now awaits Senate approval and Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.
As it happens, a week earlier carrying open beverages became legal temporarily in Atlantic City by executive order of Mayor Marty Small Sr. The state gave municipalities that option to help restaurants and bars struggling under COVID emergency restrictions.
The city tried by ordinance in 2016 to let people carry a drink from a casino or beach bar onto the Boardwalk. But even though there is no state law regarding carrying or drinking an alcoholic beverage in public, state officials convinced their city counterparts to hold off on the ordinance.
In other states with no law such as Nevada and Georgia, municipalities have been able to allow this visitor-friendly amenity with local ordinances, including in Las Vegas and Savannah. But New Jersey needed three years to figure out why and how this too should be subject to the state’s vast regulatory system, so a version of the current bill wasn’t introduced until last year.
We didn’t object to the state having its finger in open containers too, but urged officials to get it done in time for last year’s summer season. No such luck. Eventually the state Senate unanimously passed the bill, but the year ended without the Assembly voting on it.
Small’s emergency order permits open consumption on the Boardwalk, the adjacent Orange Loop streets and at Gardner’s Basin. That could change when the new law has the CRDA decide where in the Tourism District it applies. Senate passage seems assured, since it unanimously approved the bill last year.
At some point, though, N.J. legislators may get requests from other resort municipalities for the same privilege granted to Atlantic City. Cape May, North Wildwood and other towns have approved the temporary pandemic version, which is likely to remain in effect (along with some restrictions on restaurants and bars) into the fall.
Let’s hope the state doesn’t take years to let these municipalities make a decision that arguably should have been theirs all along.