Atlantic City Finances Unstable As Possible State Intervention Looms

Job losses second only to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, mortgage foreclosures five times the national average and the economic outlook for Atlantic City could get worse, fast. That’s according to a newly released report from the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. Its director is Daniel Douglas, who spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thanks for being with us, Mr. Douglas. Lawmakers are trying an intervention to save Atlantic City. The mayor is resisting. What’s the crux of the problem?

Douglas: The crux of the problem is that Atlantic City, and frankly all of South Jersey, are in dire economic circumstances. We have a higher rate of unemployment, more foreclosures than any other county in the country and it’s just a bad environment which Atlantic City is trying to deal with.

Williams: You say 22,000 jobs have been lost in the casino collapse but total employment was up 1,400 jobs from November 2014 to November 2015. Why?

Douglas: There has been some growth in non-casino/non-hospitality industries in education and health care and other industries. So there are some signs for hope that Atlantic City can start building a future not completely dependent on casino gaming.

Williams: What is the overall foreclosure rate in the city and how does that affect the economic stability of the region?

Douglas: Well, the foreclosure rate in the county, and these are usually kept at the county levels, is one in 261 homes in Atlantic County is in some form of foreclosure compared to about 553 in the whole state of New Jersey and about 1,200 to 1,300 in the whole country. So, it’s very severe. Home sales in Atlantic County have gone down 65 percent just over the last year. So it’s a rather precipitous decline.

Williams: From your research, what would allowing gaming in North Jersey do to the already shrinking job market?

Douglas: It would clearly cut into the existing market of casino gaming in Atlantic City. It’s proven with the casinos in Pennsylvanian, Delaware and Maryland that it’s cut into Atlantic City’s business rather dramatically over the last few years.

Williams: But the casinos in North Jersey would give a percentage of the taxes to Atlantic City. Would that be enough?

Douglas: That’s a math question. We’d have to see whether the investments they are seeking would actually come about, whether they produce the revenue that they said they can produce and whether there is enough to go around. Those are all very large questions that have to be worked out.

Williams:  Do you see where a brand new industry, not connected to either the beach or gambling, could get a foothold?

Douglas: Well, there’s lots of opportunity. Housing prices are good right now, there’s a number of efforts to bring new industry in the area and to invest into Atlantic City. So, it’s possible but half of our boarder is the ocean and a portion of our boarder to the west is the Pinelands so there’s not that many areas to grown in but there’s still plenty of land down here to bring some industries in that would help build the area up again. It can’t be another single industry though like gaming was. We’ll have to diversify and rely on a greater mix of economic opportunities.

Williams: OK, thank you very much for being with us.

Douglas: You’re quite welcome. Thank you.

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