Atlantic City is one of many areas across the United States affected by the Covid-19 crisis. In this region of New Jersey, casinos have been shutdown for over a month now, in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Tens of millions are being lost on a regular basis as the casinos are unable to offer land-based services. In an effort to provide relief, legislation has been presented to move funds to the region from other areas. However, legislators are not on common ground when it comes to how relief should be provided to the gaming operators.
Casino Relief Efforts
Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo are concerned about recent legislation introduced regarding help for Atlantic City casinos. They say the bills will move funds from programs in the community that are needed. The two Assemblymen were not part of a group that created the legislation. Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Louis Greenwald introduced the legislation. Senator Chris Brown was also part of the effort.
The bills were created to help casinos get through the pandemic, providing temporary relief from taxes and fees. They also want to offer state loans to the casinos in lieu of property taxes. The bills are S2400 and S2398 in the SEante and A4031 and A4032 in the Assembly.
Mazzeo pointed out that the casino industry is going to need help but if loans are provided from the Property Tax Relief Fund, then what will happen to the Homestead Rebate or Senior Freeze programs. These programs are relied upon by citizens to help reduce their property taxes.
According to Mazzeo, the state needs to be responsible in how they move forward. They need to take a step back and make sure help is being provided instead of hurting the residents of the county. He pointed out that a lot of industries are going to need help and he would rather see the state focus on unemployment payments to the thousands who are out of work and waiting weeks for income.
Senator Brown supports the legislation and is working with others like Sweeney to find ways to put people back to work as soon as possible in a responsible way. Brown said it was ‘heartbreaking’ to see families associated with the casinos with no money and waiting in lines to obtain food to feed their kids because unemployment has been a disaster.
The money for PILOT loans would be taken from the Property Tax Relief Fund of the state, according to the bills. Other fees and taxes would be waived or deferred. This money usually goes to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and pays bonds for the AC Convention Center and other venues.
Casino Association of New Jersey President Steve Callender is supportive of the legislation. He is also an executive of the Tropicana, who stated that such bills are critical to ensure that the casino industry and its employees have a way to move forward.
According to Callender, the legislation would help to stabilize the industry and support a safe reopening effort of the gaming properties. It would help employees and guests come back once the stay-at-home order is lifted.
For Mazzeo, he understands that casinos need help but wants it to be provided not at the expense of tax payers in Atlantic City and Atlantic County. With the legislation, casino operators would have three years to repay the full amount provided via loans without interest. If they do not pay the money back, they face a 10% penalty.