[toc]According to Wayne Parry of the Associated Press, the New Jersey Legislature is considering a new bill that would make several changes to a 2011 law that authorized the creation of two smaller-scale, boutique casinos in Atlantic City.
The new bill is one of many proposals being considered in the legislature as a means to stave off bankruptcy for Atlantic City, and is meant to make the 2011 law more palatable to potential boutique casino developers.
The boutique casino law
In January of 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the boutique casino bill sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, authorizing the city to license two “boutique” casinos. The intention of the bill was to lure moneyed developers, particularly Hard Rock International, to Atlantic City by allowing them to build a hotel and casino on a much smaller scale than the current properties in Atlantic City, by reducing the potential cost of the project.
Unfortunately, despite the scaled down size and overhead costs, the bill still possessed several strong barriers to entry, as the boutique casinos would have to be built from scratch. The law also imposed requirements for future hotel expansion on at least one of the two boutique casinos.
These barriers, coupled with the economic situation in Atlantic City, which has seen four of its 12 casinos close since the start of 2014, has kept companies from going forward with a boutique casino in the city.
What the new bill would do
The new bill would do away with both of the provisions noted above. The proposed changes would allow a current hotel in the city to add gambling, as well as removing the stipulation that one of the casinos would have to expand to 500 or more hotel rooms in the future.
As Parry notes, similar attempts to modify the 2011 boutique casino law have been proposed in recent years, but these measures have failed to gain any traction. Proponents of the changes are likely banking that the sheer desperation of the situation in Atlantic City might lead to more support this time around, but considering this is more of a long-term plan to rejuvenate the city’s gaming industry, it might be dismissed out of hand while lawmakers try to rescue the city from an impending bankruptcy.
The 30,000 foot view
The proposed changes to the 2011 law are just the latest everything but the kitchen sink attempt by the legislature to “rescue” Atlantic City.
The city is currently facing a budget crisis that could see it run out of money before the calendar turns to April, which has led to several short-term aid bills being introduced, as well as several proposed long-term fixes.
In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a comprehensive rescue package for Atlantic City, leaving the city on the verge of bankruptcy. Compounding the problem is a nine-figure tax refund the city owes Borgata that dates back to 2009, and Borgata is demanding the city pay with threat of withholding future tax payments to the municipality.
In addition to softening the requirements on potential boutique casino operators, the legislature is also working on a bill that would authorize casinos to be built outside of Atlantic City, with a significant percentage of the revenue earmarked for Atlantic City revitalization efforts.
The North Jersey casino plan is an extremely polarizing issue, with vocal opponents and proponents of the idea.
Image Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com