Atlantic City, RevivedTo many, three days is a quick long weekend but to the Atlantic City gaming industry, it was an eternity after casinos abruptly shut their doors July 5 due to a state budget crisis that sidelined 45,000 employees, including the handful of casino inspectors who are law-bound to be present on casino floors. As a result, all 12 casinos had to go on lockdown and eager gamblers were summarily ushered out.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed a $30 billion compromise-spending plan on July 8, which officially ended the budget nightmare and the casino-hotels once again opened their doors to eager gamers and their nearly 36,000 employees.
The problems began when politicians in Trenton missed a July 1 deadline to pass Corzine’s $31 billion budget. Then the state government began to shut down. Without the budget, New Jersey couldn’t pay state employees, meaning casinos couldn’t legally operate without those inspectors. So casino industry workers were shown the door.
Losses of the indefinite shutdown, as it was understood, resulted in more than $16 million a day, and the state $1.3 million a day in casino taxes.
Corzine tried to quash dissent from within his own party, who oppose his plan to raise the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent. But for gambling enthusiasts, the writing was on the wall. Even with the hotels, shops and entertainment still on offer, people still checked out ahead of schedule or, in many cases, didn’t check in at all during the three-day blackout period.
In Atlantic City, 109 government-paid state inspectors work in all 12 casinos to make sure it’s a tight ship: the state gets its taxes and the games are fair. And while the casino industry made a strong case that those inspectors should be declared “essential” employees, the State Supreme Court didn’t see it that way, and the casinos closed their doors.
And all this at a time when plans for an express train from New York City to Atlantic City are on track for next year. (See page 16.) But early that July morning, the Tropicana's casino was as quiet as a Zen garden. Then the Borgata shut down. And then Caesars, all under the watchful eyes of security personnel and state troopers. Workers dependent on wages and tips were sent home mid shift. Endless stretches of garishly carpeted casino floors were emptied and cordoned off with yellow tape. And as the gambling diaspora wandered along the boardwalk, maintenance crews went to work. The mess back in Trenton, however, had yet to be cleaned up.
Initial marathon joint sessions of the Legislature in Trenton and lawmakers didn’t progress with any great strides to remedy the situation as summer crowds eager to tap into Atlantic City diverted their attention to casinos in Connecticut or, in many cases, online. Several top casinos and sportsbooks found on the internet saw a silver lining in this first closure of Atlantic City’s casinos in the 28 years since gambling was legalized there.
“We’ve experienced a significant increase in the amount of casino and poker-related revenue on our site from our customers in and around the Atlantic City area,” said Alex Czajkowski, marketing director Sportsbook.com. “What makes our business so successful is the fact that we’re never closed.”
Back on land, gamblers and workers were at a loss when the shutdown occurred, unaccustomed to a time-based world without the din of slot machines. The timing, being at the height of summer and during the Fourth of July weekend, couldn’t have been worse either, and Corzine expressed regret that the budget was finally adopted eight days after the deadline imposed by the state Constitution. He said it was “something that should not have occurred and can never be repeated.”