Will Atlantic City Ever Get Help From New Jersey Government?

An economic stimulus package for Atlantic City is stuck in limbo after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a series of bills, but the issue is not yet dead.

An economic stimulus package for Atlantic City is stuck in limbo after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a series of bills earlier this month, but the issue is not yet dead.

Christie says no to a bunch of AC bills

The package of bills designed to provide help to Atlantic City had sat on Christie’s desk for months, with no action and no indication of what his plans for the package were.

The uncertainty finally came to an end earlier this month — sort of — when Christie vetoed most of them, saying he didn’t “believe the legislation sets the ailing Jersey Shore gambling resort on the road toward long-term growth,” according to a story at NJ.com:

…The Republican governor and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) also announced they will soon sit down and hammer out a “final and fast resolution path” to help revive city. …

But the governor said in his veto message Monday he is concerned the bills in their present form “fail to recognize the true path to economic revitalization and fiscal stability in the city.

Christie, of course, is still busy running for the Republican nomination for president, and some lawmakers blamed that for his inaction on Atlantic City.

So, the AC package isn’t dead, but what’s next?

Three of the bills were “conditionally vetoed” by Christie, which means they are sent back to the state legislature for changes. But the meeting between Christie and key lawmakers remains a moving target, two weeks after Christie’s vetoes. More from NJ.com:

Nearly two weeks later, Sweeney said he hasn’t yet sat down with Christie and he’s still uncertain what will happen with the legislation — whether they will compromise on changes or present something new entirely. But Christie did hold a meeting with someone about the topic.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said he met with the governor in Newark on Tuesday — a session that involved neither Sweeney (D-Gloucester) nor state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), another key co-sponsor of the legislation.

So, it appears the subject of helping AC is still on Christie’s radar. But will that result in action any time soon that will help the struggling casino town? That remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, AC still having lots of problems

The Press of Atlantic City blasted just about everyone for the AC mess in a house editorial, saying that Christie and the legislature need to take action, since AC’s own government is either unable or unwilling to do anything on its own.

That came against the backdrop that revenue was down year over year in October for AC by 1.3 percent. That was despite the fact that NJ online gambling continues to post strong numbers.

About the only thing everyone agrees on is that AC needs to be fixed. Simply put, no one knows how that will happen.

New Jersey Gov. Christie Dragging Feet On Atlantic City Stimulus Package

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking his sweet time signing bills that would help Atlantic City. And he’s offering no explanation for the hold up.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking his sweet time signing bills that would help Atlantic City. And he’s offering no explanation for the hold up.

Christie’s inaction on AC continues

The Associated Press reported that The Casino Association of New Jersey has urged Christie to sign the five bills concerning Atlantic City. From the AP:

The Casino Association of New Jersey on Monday urged Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, to sign a package of five bills. It was the second time they had called on him to take action on the measures.

The group says failure to enact the laws will cost Atlantic City $50 million this year – money that would have to come from the city’s already-strapped taxpayers.

“As the clock continues to tick while we wait for Governor Christie to sign the Atlantic City revitalization legislation, the price of inaction continues to grow and the fate of Atlantic City and the region hang in the balance,” it said in a statement.

The package of bill is seen as key to helping Atlantic City’s economic recovery. But Christie’s office has been mum on the issue, even as the bills have sat on his desk for months; the bills were all passed in June.

Increasing attention on Atlantic City

The news comes as more and more people are focusing on AC and its fortunes in recent weeks.

The first anniversary of the closure of the Showboat was in late August, along with Trump Plaza and Revel shortly thereafter. NJ.com took a look at how casinos in AC are doing in the wake of that closure.

The remaining eight casinos seem to have stabilized in the past year, although their ability to maintain their current level or even grow in coming years is certainly in doubt, especially without help from the state government

Union workers garnered some publicity for perceived poor treatment by doing protests at Trump Taj Mahal and Tropicana in neon lights.

The New Yorker also did a fascinating in-depth feature on the past, present and future of AC, called “The Death and Life of Atlantic City.” It tells much of the story through the lens of Revel, which opened in 2012 before closing and declaring bankruptcy just two years later. The beautiful but empty casino property is in many ways the poster-child for the problems of Atlantic City.

Christie is busy running for president, unsuccessfully

It’s not clear if Christie’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination is what is holding up the AC package. He certainly hasn’t been ignoring all of his duties in New Jersey, but the inaction on these important bills continues, even though he hasn’t signaled that he opposes them.

Christie has lost support in recent polls, dropping from four percent to two percent in one recent poll. If Christie doesn’t make some in-roads soon, his full attention may return to New Jersey for the remainder of his term, and to the unenviable task of trying to find ways to help Atlantic City turn around its economic fortunes.

Photo by Gage Skidmore used under license CC BY-SA 2.0.

Resorts AC: Back From The Dead, And With PokerStars On The Way?

Once-struggling Resorts AC is now one of the hottest properties in Atlantic City, and could get even hotter if PokerStars makes its way into New Jersey.

Resorts AC — once on the brink of disaster — is now one of the hottest properties in Atlantic City, and could get even hotter if PokerStars makes its way into New Jersey.

From the ashes, Resorts rises

An Associated Press story detailed the fall — and subsequent rise — of Resorts Casino. Under the leadership of the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut, in the past five years Resorts has gone from cautionary tale to an example of how Atlantic City might turn things around.

From the AP:

On Wednesday, Resorts opened a $9.4 million expansion of its meeting and conference space to take advantage of a pressing need in the struggling gambling resort. It also served as a celebration of how far the casino has come against some daunting odds.

“It was dead, and it has been brought back to life,” said Resorts President Mark Giannantonio. “The year I started here three years ago, this place lost $12 million. Last year we made $2.5 million. And this year we will do far better than that.”

The story related the story that in 2009, the former owners had nearly given up on the casino and were about to default on their loans. But since then, things have gone amazingly well for the once struggling casino.

What’s gone right at Resorts?

The biggest positive factor in the Resorts turnaround has clearly been Mohegan’s involvement. Back in 2012, Resorts and Mohegan announced a partnership that would put the Connecticut tribe in charge of operations.

The changes and success have been nothing short of extraordinary. And analysts saw the turnaround coming, as soon as the partnership was inked. From the Press of Atlantic City, three years ago:

In choosing Mohegan Sun as his new partner,Resorts Casino Hotel owner Morris Bailey has established an alliance with one of the top casino operators in the country, analysts say.

Other Atlantic City casinos that had grown accustomed to Resorts being a pushover will now face a more formidable competitor — one that can tap the Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for new customers.

“It’s not good news for the competitors,” Greg Roselli, a casino analyst for UBS Securities, said of the Resorts-Mohegan Sun deal. “Atlantic City is still a very challenged market. Before, you had a property that was not much of a competitor, but is now taking a big step to expand its customer base.”

Growing online casinos, too

The brick-and-mortar operation isn’t the only good part about Resorts. It also now features two different online gambling sites in New Jersey: one under its own brand, and one under the Mohegan Sun brand.

Resorts got a late start in offering online casino games, but it has managed to carve out meaningful marketshare, which only adds to the gains it has made on the land-based side.

Resorts has seen revenue grow from its online operation every month since launching in February.

And Resorts isn’t done there

The “piece de resistance” for Resorts might still be to come. Resorts AC is the land-based partner of PokerStars, which has had its sights set on entering the regulated New Jersey online poker market.

Just this past week, Resorts’ owner said that the final disposition of PokerStars’ online gambling license would be known “in weeks, not months.” That would mean PokerStars could be operation in New Jersey as soon as September. The brand awareness that comes with PokerStars could make its online poker offering relevant almost immediately.

If PokerStars ends up getting its license via Resorts, that’s yet another gamechanger for the AC casino. And that means it has the chance to go from nearly closing its doors permanently to becoming one of the most vibrant properties on the boardwalk.

Photo by Magnus Manske used under license CC BY-SA 3.0

Atlantic City Won’t Be Allowed To Bulldoze Man’s Home, For Now

New Jersey authorities wanted to seize a man’s Atlantic City home near Revel Casino, but a judge in the state is putting a stop to that, at least for now.

New Jersey authorities wanted to take a man’s Atlantic City home near Revel Casino through eminent domain, but a judge in the state is putting a stop to that, at least for now.

No soup for you, New Jersey

In a case that has garnered some national intention, a superior court judge in New Jersey has ruled that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority cannot take the home of Charlie Birnbaum, a 68-year-old piano tuner, who runs his business out of his residence.

His home is near the now-closed Revel Casino Hotel, so that the state needed to take someone’s home who didn’t really want to leave seemed like a stretch. And Judge Julio Mendez agreed. The CRDA cannot take the home unless it comes up with a “concrete plan” for redevelopment of the land where Birnbaum’s home sits.

More from Philly.com:

Last November, Mendez said the state’s intention — folding the land into a tourism district in the wingspan of the now-closed Revel Casino Hotel _ was enough to warrant the seizure. But after hearing the 68-year-old Birnbaum express his desire to stay and his protests over the state’s lack of specific plans, Mendez changed his mind.

“The court shares Birnbaum’s concern about the uncertainty of the various plans for Atlantic City’s recovery and the ability of the CRDA to implement the plan that justifies the taking of the Birnbaum property,” Mendez wrote in his opinion. “The court lacks confidence that the plans as presented here will be effectuated in light of the uncertainty surrounding Atlantic City, the economic conditions of Atlantic City, and the pending legislation.”

Kicking out residents from AC?

Mendez went even further, pointing out the hypocrisy of Atlantic City trying to displace someone who was willing to stay in the city, which has fallen on tough economic times. Birnbaum’s attorney, Robert McNamara, picked up on that theme after the decision. Philly.com again:

“Certainly with the current state of Atlantic City, it seems like the last thing you would want to do is drive out a property owner who loves his property,” McNamara said. “And if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that Atlantic City needs more people who love it, not fewer.”

The house has been in Birnbaum’s family since 1969.

Waiting on Christie

Part of the reason why there’s no plan for the home? According to the CRDA, it is waiting on Gov. Chris Christie to pass a package of legislation meant to help Atlantic City.

Those bills, however, have been on Christie’s desk for nearly two months. while the governor is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Associated Press reported that “the agency will review whether to move forward with the project after Christie decides what to do with the legislation on his desk and its future funding is sorted out. Depending on those changes, he said, the agency also will consider appealing Mendez’s ruling.”

The status of the Revel casino, which was bought four months ago, still remains very much up in the air, regardless of the prospects of the relief package aimed at AC.

Ballot Measure Allowing Northern New Jersey Casinos Likely In 2016

New Jersey may make a push to allow casinos in the northern part of the state, outside of Atlantic City, according to a story at Politico.

New Jersey may make a push to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City, according to a story at Politico.

Casinos in northern New Jersey?

Politico reporter Matt Friedman talked with politicians and gaming interests about the possibility of a referendum allowing casinos in northern New Jersey. Senate President Steve Sweeney had tried to get a measure on the ballot for this November, but that didn’t happen.

Politico reports that a referendum is far more likely next year, and Friedman reports that “backers of building casinos in northern New Jersey are planning to spend $10 million to $15 million on advertising to convince a skeptical public to side with them.”

The reason that much money would need to be spent? Because there isn’t much support for more casinos in New Jersey. A majority of New Jersey residents do not favor casino expansion, and under 40 percent favor it. More from Politico:

“From what I see when we do polling, if you simply ask the question, ‘Are you in favor of expanding gambling?’—the immediate reaction is no. Why would we expand gambling because Atlantic City is doing bad? Why add casinos?”Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural said. “But when we say, ‘Would you be in favor at the Meadowlands if we give the state $500 million a year and some of that money would go to help Atlantic City recover and rebuild?’—then it would be a positive.

“The key to us to get the referendum passed is to get the message out,” Gural said. “If we can’t get the message out, it will lose.”

Other stumbling blocks

The polling numbers aren’t the only issue with a possible casino ballot measure in New Jersey:

  • Gural also noted that a measure in 2015 likely would have had a better chance of success than in 2016, because the message and advertising wouldn’t be competing against the presidential election.
  • Politicians in and around Atlantic City aren’t in favor of casino expansion. While a potential measure promises to help the region, legislators and interests in southern N.J. worry that cannibalization of A.C. revenue could occur.

But is NJ losing gaming revenue by not expanding?

Taking revenue away from Atlantic City may be only a secondary concern. Residents of New Jersey have fairly easy access to several casinos in Pennsylvania, including Parx and Sugarhhouse in Philadelphia, in addition to Mohegan Sun Pocono, Mt. Airy Casino Resort and Sands Bethlehem.

For instance, Sands is actively trying to lure players away from the state, and Atlantic City. Losing revenue to its neighbor to the west may be a driving factor in trying to build casinos elsewhere in New Jersey.

Atlantic City is also in danger of seeing more casinos fail, without a stimulus package that is sitting on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. At the same time, gaming revenue in Atlantic City was up in July’s recently released figures.

The question New Jersey will have to ask itself is this: Is blocking the possibility of casino expansion worth trying to save an Atlantic City economy that may not succeed in the long term anyway?

New Jersey Lottery Has Problem Online Gambling Doesn’t: Underage Players

The New Jersey Lottery kicked off its “Not 18 Yet? No Bet” awareness campaign, in contrast to the fact that online gambling has almost no underage problems.

The New Jersey Lottery recently kicked off its “Not 18 Yet? No Bet” awareness campaign in an attempt to curb playing of lottery games by teens and children.

‘Responsible Gaming Education Week’

The lottery and the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey kicked off what is now an annual push to stop underage lottery play. It came during the American Gaming Association’s Responsible Gaming Education Week, which is Aug. 3-7.

More from the announcement:

As part of its effort, the New Jersey Lottery has developed a “Not 18 Yet? No Bet” brochure aimed at retailers and players that provides information about the major types of teen betting, as well as ways to recognize signs of a gambling problem early on. The brochure also tells concerned individuals where to go for advice and help. It is available at each of the more than 7,000 Lottery retailer locations, at all Lottery sponsored exhibits and events and through the NJLottery.com website.

It’s not clear how many people who are underage attempt to or are successful at playing lottery games, but it’s obviously a non-zero number.

“Right now, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ is in the midst of a major expansion of its community and school-based outreach programs,” CCGNJ Executive Director Neva Pryor said. “One of our focuses this year will be on preventing the onset of gambling addiction among adolescents and young adults, so the NJ Lottery’s message and support is particularly timely.”

Lottery a problem, iGaming less so

The lottery push stands in contrast to the fact that underage online gambling in New Jersey is almost a non-existent problem:

  • The forces behind the Restoration of America’s Wire Act — a bill that would ban online gambling nationwide — “has been unable to produce evidence that regulators in Nevada or New Jersey or the sites operating … allow minors.” (Story)
  • “There has not been a single documented case of underage gambling … in year one, per the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.” (Story)

Despite the success with preventing underage users in jurisdictions that have regulated iGaming, the possibility of kids gambling online is consistently a talking point for opponents, like the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Yet, RAWA looks to carve out state lotterys from other types of online gambling.

It’s unlikely teenagers are playing the lottery in massive numbers. But it also seems safe to assume a lot more of them are playing the lottery than are gambling online.