A New Jersey Senate committee on Thursday approved legislation to establish a pilot program aimed at bringing smaller-scale casinos to Atlantic City, the latest legislative effort to prop up the city’s struggling economy in the wake of several major casino closures.
The New Jersey Senate’s Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation committee voted unanimously to approve S-366, which would require the state’s Casino Control Commission to launch a pilot program to issue small-scale casino licenses and “staged casino” facility licenses in Atlantic City. The bill is designed to lower the requirements set forth under a 2011 law aimed at attracting smaller, “boutique” casinos, a move that failed to attract interested parties.
In January 2011, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation to allow for two new casino projects in Atlantic City, one of which could have as few as 200 guest rooms, rather than the 500 room-minimum typically required by state law. S-366 would establish a pilot program to further relax those restrictions, removing a requirement that one of the facilities eventually expand to 500 rooms.
If passed, the bill would also remove the requirement that the boutique casinos be newly constructed, allowing for the establishment of “staged” casino facilities in renovated, existing buildings instead of new ones.
S-366 will head next for a vote by the full Senate.
The bill, introduced by Senate President Steven Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, was first introduced in January, but languished in committee all year. It gained steam following the closures of several Atlantic City casinos this year, which has sent the city’s economy into a state of free-fall, with an estimated 8,000 jobs already lost and possibly more to come.
A fourth casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, is on the verge of becoming Atlantic City’s next shuttered gaming establishment, as the property battles a workers’ union over its collective bargaining agreement. Should Trump Taj Mahal fail to strike a deal with its workers, the property would join the Showboat Atlantic City, Trump Plaza and the Revel Casino Hotel.
Revel was sold at auction, but the prospective buyer, Brookfield Property Partners, withdrew its $110 million bid due to the property’s conflict with its utility provider.