The Lost City of Atlantic.
As politicians in Trenton scrambled to right a $4.5 billion budget deficit, New Jersey’s fiscal crisis hammered Atlantic City on July 5 where all 12 casinos were closed. The indefinite shutdown means that they stand to lose more than $16 million a day, and the state $1.3 million a day in casino taxes.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a democrat, 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.
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.
The problems began when lawmakers 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 can’t pay state employees, meaning casinos can’t legally operate without those inspectors. So about 45,000 state workers, mostly in the casino industry, were shown the door. Motor vehicle offices, state-run parks, beaches and historic sites are also feeling the squeeze.
Repeated joint sessions of the Legislature in Trenton and lawmakers aren’t progressing with any great strides to remedy the situation as summer crowds eager to tap into Atlantic City divert their attention to casinos in Connecticut or, in many cases, online. Several top casinos and sportsbooks found on the internet are indeed seeing 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. “One of the benefits of online gambling and what makes our business so successful is the fact that we’re never closed.”
But as of press time, the Assembly’s Budget Committee voted to give the governor the authority to declare all state workers essential, which would open the beaches, state parks and, most importantly for those looking for some fast action, bring inspectors back into the casinos and Atlantic City would reclaim its glory as Las Vegas’s sister Sin City. The state, however, would still be left without a budget.
Until that time comes, though, many gamblers and most workers are at a loss, unaccustomed to a time-based world without the din of slot machines.
Most gamblers and workers were in disbelief that the casinos would close. 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, has yet to be cleaned up.