Atlantic City Reinvestment Authority Focuses on Casinos Over Urban Development

Posted on: January 21, 2017, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: January 20, 2017, 10:38h.

The Atlantic City reinvestment board responsible for overseeing the city’s revitalization has spent a considerable amount of its budget on funding projects that benefit the resort town’s casinos.

 Atlantic City reinvestment CRDA Margaritaville
Visitors to Margaritaville at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City have the town’s reinvestment authority to thank for helping to fund the establishment. (Image: Resorts Atlantic City)

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) is a state-run organization that gained additional power in 2011 when Governor Chris Christie (R) signed a law to create the Tourism District. The CRDA was given control of the new zone, and now six years later, it’s apparent the authority has slightly switched its focus to investing in projects to save gambling in Atlantic City.

According to a study conducted by the Press of Atlantic City, over the past 30 years, CRDA has spent $452 million on projects that directly assist casinos in a nongaming capacity.

For example, the board gave $46 million to the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, and $13 million to help build Resorts’ Margaritaville restaurant.

The CRDA was once primarily focused on urban revitalization through public housing, community development, and infrastructure. But data shows that since 1986, those three areas account for just 51 percent of CRDA spending, surprising to some since the Tourism District is only entering its sixth year in existence.

Mission Impossible

The CRDA has perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in the state: revitalizing a city that has seen its gaming revenues, which are the lifeline of the local economy, nose-dive from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.6 billion in 2016.

While last year’s sum is exactly half of the total experienced a decade ago, it does represent Atlantic City’s first annual gaming gain since that record-setting year.

The CRDA mission statement says it hopes to be a “catalyst for meaningful, positive improvement in the lives of New Jersey residents statewide.” The group declares on its website that it accomplishes those goals by investing in residential, commercial, culture, and social landscape, while also supporting quality-of-life improvement efforts.

Conflicts of Interest

Casino revenues fund the CRDA. When the Tourism District fell under its power, deciding where to devote the majority of its bankroll became slightly clouded.

The Tourism District’s goals differ from the CRDA’s. Instead of putting the Atlantic City resident first, the tourism plan calls for focusing on the overall visitor experience.

But since it’s the casinos that provide the revenue for the reinvestment authority, CRDA officials labored over how they should spend the money.

“Given the inherent conflicts as to whose money it was, the casinos’ money or the community’s money, it worked better than you could reasonably expect,” CRDA Executive Director James Kennedy said. “You always have limits to what you could do due to those inherent conflicts.”

The CRDA has spent $457 million on events, attractions, and tourism, which when combined with nongaming allocations, accounts for 49 percent of CRDA expenditures since 1986.

Some of the larger CRDA grants for casino-specific builds includes $46 million for the Harrah’s conference center, $18 million on refurbishing the Tropicana Boardwalk, and $15 million to help Borgata expand its nightclub.