NJ Senate President Supports Atlantic City Five-Year Plan

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney says Atlantic City needs the time to complete its five-year push—which is entering its fourth year—to turn tourism around in the resort. However, he also said that if New Jersey voters eventually approve expanding gambling in the state, several cities in northern New Jersey would benefit from casinos.

New Jersey made a deal to give Atlantic City five years to turn its slumping fortunes around and the state should stick to that timetable, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said in a recent interview.

But Sweeney said he would also support adding casinos to other parts of the state—such as cities like Camden, Newark and Jersey City over racetracks like the Meadowlands complex—if approved by voters after the five-year plan is finished.

Sweeney’s comments came at an editorial board meeting of the Press of Atlantic City.

“We made a deal” to give the resort five years to show improvement, Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the five years doesn’t come with an ending date set it stone, but did point to Governor Chris Christie’s signing legislation to create a tourism district in the city in February 2011 as a logical starting point.

 “The day he signed the bill, all we heard was we have to move gaming outside Atlantic City,” Sweeney said. “We need to be touting the progress in Atlantic City—about how much nicer it is.”

Sweeney said talk of moving casinos into other parents of the state may be discouraging investments by casino companies in Atlantic City.

Sweeney said the success of Atlantic City should not be judged by casino revenue alone. While casino revenue continues to fall—to $2.9 Billion in 2013—income from restaurants, shopping and clubs has grown as a percentage of citywide revenue.

“Those tax dollars count too.” Sweeney said.

Still, non-gambling tax revenue also fell 2/4 percent in Atlantic City in 2013.

Sweeney said that eventually, if New Jersey voters approve, he would support locating casinos in cities such as Camden—in southern New Jersey—Newark and Jersey City rather than at racetracks such as The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. Sweeney said those cities could benefit greatly from casinos.

Those comments quickly picked up support from Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

“A casino in Jersey City right outside of Manhattan would be a top performer economically in the country and a huge benefit for Jersey City for job creation, entertainment, and financially,” Fulop said in a statement

Sweeney also supports online gambling, which went live in the state in November, but criticized Christie for over-estimating the revenue it would bring to the state. Christie predicted the state would take in $1 billion in revenue this year. Through January, internet gambling has brought in less than $20 million.

“I can yell as much as I want to yell,” Sweeney said, “but he has to certify the figures.”

Sweeney also promised to “deal with the tax appeal issue,” which has seen several Atlantic City casinos drastically reduce their tax assessments, seriously impacting the city and Atlantic County’s tax revenues.

Finally, he criticized Christie for restrictions on the tourism District, which has hurt the city in attracting new convention business.

“We’ve really hamstrung that organization,” Sweeney said. “You get what you pay for.”