It has been close to five years that efforts to right the listing boat of Atlantic City have gone without success. Soon voters will decide whether to allow gaming outside the city, bankruptcy may become an option, and state lawmakers have proposed taking over the finances of the city for 15 years.
Atlantic City was once the second-largest gambling market in the United States but slowly began to see a decline in patrons, as gambles took to casinos located closer to home, including in New York and Pennsylvania.
With the decline came a decrease in municipal tax collections. State aid was provided this year, with the city facing a $90 million shortfall next year, which is a third of the state budget. The issue has led officials of New Jersey to bring about options that have been under discussion for months, sometimes years.
This week, lawmakers agreed to add a referendum to the November ballot to see if voters want to expand gambling in the state to the northern portion, sharing revenues with Atlantic City. It has been proposed that the state will take over the city finances for a total of 15 years. Steve Sweeney, the Senate President, stated that the city should file bankruptcy if the takeover by the state is not approved in a timely manner.
According to a statement by Sweeny to reporters this week at the Trenton Statehouse, the Senate President believes that the statement to Atlantic City is clear; ‘get your act together, knock off the B.S. and start addressing what you need to address.’ Sweeney reiterated that the state is not going to come and bail the city out anymore, that they need to repair their problems.
When Chris Christie was elected for a second term as governor of the state, he began a five year turnaround plan starting in February 2011. This plan included tax incentives, state-run tourism, marketing and a non-gambling business push. By 2014, four casinos of only 12 in the state had closed down and by 2015, the city was downgraded on Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Services to a ‘junk’ rating”.
In January, the state senate sent legislation to Christie that would divert a portion of gambling funds to the city and help to establish fixed payments from casinos instead of levies. Several tax appeals have strained the finances of the city. The governor returned to Trenton earlier their week after campaigning for presidency and stated he has brokered the deal with the Democrats who are in control of legislature to ask for the expanded gambling vote. Two casinos would be added to the popular and wealthy northern areas of the state in exchange for a third of new revenues to help Atlantic City.