At East Coast Gaming Conference, Sweeney Insists Atlantic City Is Alive and Well

Posted on: May 27, 2016, 04:02h. 

Last updated on: May 27, 2016, 04:05h.

Atlantic City is “far, far from dead.” That was the takeaway  from the two-day East Coast Gaming Conference at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center this week, as keynote speaker New Jersey Senate President Jim Sweeney sought to reassure attendees that the city would endure.

New Jersey State Senator Jim addresses East Coast Gaming Conference
New Jersey State Senator Jim Sweeney, who spoke at this week’s East Coast Gaming Conference, is optimistic about Atlantic City’s chances of a rebound, despite a history of financial turmoil. (Image: AP)

Despite the political turmoil and financial disarray that have besieged the resort town in recent months, “the best for Atlantic City is in front of us,” he insisted.

The beachfront city has been on the verge of bankruptcy, but on May 26, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill that will loan AC $75 million, giving it five months to get its finances in order. Failing that, the state could still take over.

A separate bill, passed the same day, will allow casinos to make payments in lieu of taxes, allowing them to budget known payment amounts rather than deal with fluctuating property values. Both bills are now sitting on Governor Chris Christie’s desk, awaiting sign-off.

Casinos Resurgent

Casino revenues have remained steady throughout this period of upheaval, and operating profits for the first quarter are up on last year. Which could be signs that despite its alarming bank balance, the city is ready for a rebound.

The local casino industry had a terrible 2014, with four of its 12 casinos closing, but this is the very reason for its resurgence, Sweeney said. Rather than being over saturated, as before, the market is now “right-sized” he claimed.

He also cited the proposed expansion of gambling beyond Atlantic City and into North Jersey, a motion that would help the city recoup revenue lost to neighboring states like Pennsylvania, which have regulated casino in recent times.

If approved, Atlantic City would receive up to $20 million a year from taxes on the new casinos in the north, as compensation for ending its 40-year monopoly. The issue is due to go to a public vote in November, and remains highly controversial, with strong opinions for and against.

“When we came up with legislation to expand gaming, it was to ensure Atlantic City would benefit and have the funding to diversify its economy,” Sweeney said.

Operators Cross Swords Over Northern Expansion

The New Jersey casino expansion issue was a hotly debated issue at the conference, and Resorts Hotel CEO and President Mark Giannantonio made it clear he did not share Sweeney’s enthusiasm for the idea. He claimed that his company would soon be publishing a study showing that expansion would impact the city severely, and that it could lose three to five more casinos as a result.

New Meadowlands Racetrack CEO Jeff Gural, who has teamed up with the Hard Rock International on a North Jersey casino proposal, called Giannantonio’s assertion “crazy.” He added that Atlantic City operators should be delighted with the compensation package, which would go to city coffers, rather than the casinos directly.

“To get to your casino, you have to drive through a slum. You need it more than anybody,” he snapped.

The somewhat abysmal surrounding areas of the casinos in Atlantic City have long been a thorn in the gambling resort’s side.