Atlantic City casinos have dodged a bullet. Late last night, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a budget bill that stopped the state’s government shutdown. Christie and the state legislature had failed to reach a budget agreement last week, leading to a shutdown of non-essential employees on Saturday.

Atlantic City casinos New Jersey shutdown

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a lot of heat for enjoying empty beachfront in front of the governor’s mansion last weekend, but now state beaches are once again open to the public after he signed a new budget deal that will also ensure Atlantic City casinos keep on taking your bets. (Image: Andrew Mills/NJ.com)

Under a law passed in 2008, Atlantic City casinos can remain open for seven days following a government closure, but after a week, the gaming floors must go dark. Christie signed a $34.7 billion budget on July 3 that relieves those concerns. All state parks and beaches are back open, just in time for Independence Day traffic.

The closure will still hurt the Garden State fiscally, however. Beaches and parks up and down the Jersey Shore were closed over the weekend, losing revenues during what is always a popular vacation time. The state missed out on parking and permit fees, and Boardwalk businesses also suffered.

Keeping Atlantic City Open

The first government shutdown in New Jersey came back in 2006 when former Governor Jon Corzine (D) was still in office. It came at the same time as this year’s closure, lasting from July 1 through July 8.

But 11 years ago, New Jersey didn’t allow Atlantic City casinos to remain open when the government ceased functioning. Because state gaming inspectors are not considered “essential employees,” the casinos were forced to close their doors.

Some 36,000 gaming industry workers were told to stay home, and the 12 casinos then in operation suffered losses totaling nearly $20 million. A bill was passed and signed into law two years later that allows gambling venues to remain open for seven days after a government shutdown begins.

This week’s budget stalemate has once again highlighted the issue. State Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City) and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic County) are introducing a bill that allows casinos to stay open indefinitely.

“We’ve had enough casinos shutting down over the past few years. We don’t need more,” Mazzeo said.

Defining ‘Essential’

The case could be made that gaming inspectors are indeed essential state employees when it comes to Atlantic City. The gambling city is finally showing signs of life after enduring five casino closures between 2014 and 2016.

The Boardwalk and Marina District casinos are beginning to pull in larger numbers of gamblers again. But they need to possess the power to remain regardless of what affects the rest of the state legislatively, Whelan says.

“It doesn’t make any sense. You’re going to close a source of income that pays for itself?” the former Atlantic City mayor asked.

Land-based gaming revenue year-to-date is up almost 10 percent, and internet casinos are outpacing 2016’s income by 29 percent. Hard Rock is investing $500 million into renovating the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal, and MGM and Caesars both say they’re ready to make further investments in Atlantic City.