Matthew Levinson (R) has been ousted from the Casino Control Commission (CCC) after a little more than five years overseeing the agency responsible for licensing Atlantic City’s casinos and key employees. Governor Chris Christie (R) announced the appointment of current New Jersey Parole Board Chairman James Plousis (R) to the CCC role.
Levinson was assigned to the CCC by Christie in 2012, and was up for reappointment in August after his five-year term ran its course. Late State Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic County) had nominated Levinson for renewal, but the State Senate never voted on the reappointment, nor did Christie make any recommendation.
Christie didn’t comment on the decision to replace Levinson, but by all accounts, it appears to be politics as usual in New Jersey. Levinson’s father is Dennis Levinson (R), the Atlantic County executive who is suing the state over the controversial PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program that allows casinos to collectively pay $120 million annually instead of property taxes.
“Matt was collateral damage in this, and we expected it,” the elder Levinson told the Press of Atlantic City.
“This is how it works, and it’s not a big surprise,” Levinson continued. “If you go along with everything they want, they take care of you.”
The CCC consists of three members serving staggered five-year terms. By law, no more than two commissioners can be of the same political party. Vice Chair Sharon Harrington and Commissioner Alisa Cooper are both Democrats.
After multiple casinos filed property tax disputes arguing the assessed valuations of their resorts amid a deteriorating Atlantic City economy, the state intervened and passed the PILOT in order to guarantee local and state governments reliable funds. The casinos agreed to pay $120 million a year for 10 years.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Christie told Dennis Levinson that Atlantic County would receive 13.5 percent of the annual money. But the handshake deal wasn’t made good on by Christie, who said Levinson’s county failed to assist the state in the Atlantic City stabilization, which later included a state takeover.
Instead of 13.5 percent, Atlantic County has been receiving 10.4 percent. Levinson and Atlantic County subsequently sued the state on grounds that the PILOT helps casinos, while hurting everyone else.
The Levinsons knew the lawsuit would upset Christie, and potentially jeopardize Matthew’s reappointment to the CCC. Dennis said his son told him “he would be disappointed in me if I didn’t do what I believed was right for the county.”
Matthew Levinson led the Casino Control Commission during a troubling period. Five casinos closed under his watch, four in 2014, and the fifth last fall with the Trump Taj Mahal. No casino opened during his CCC chairmanship.
His successor will have the privilege of having a casino open in the immediate months after taking the CCC helm. Hard Rock’s reimagining of the Taj is expected to be completed and back open for business by Memorial Day 2018.