Sen. Sweeney: Atlantic City Needs to Diversify Economy

Atlantic City is losing a third of its casinos after Revel’s bankruptcy and the announcements that Showboat and Trump Plaza will be closing. Senate President Steve Sweeney told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that Atlantic City needs to focus on becoming a more diverse economy because the non-gaming revenues in the city are doing extremely well and are growing.

Even though Atlantic City is losing some of its casinos, Sweeney said he thinks that the city has a future once it figures out what it is going to be going forward and once it figures out how to reemploy 9,000 to 12,000 people. Sweeney said that gaming has cropped up in surrounding states and New Jersey has lost the exclusivity on the East Coast that it had for many years. He said New Jersey missed the opportunities to make Atlantic City the destination that it needs to be.

He said he is working toward trying to find a solution to make Atlantic City a destination with casinos instead of what the city was — a casino town with a beach. He said that he tells people it’s “back to the future” because it was a resort community and now the state has to focus on the resort piece. He said that the non-gaming revenues are doing extremely well and are growing year over year so focusing on creating a more diverse economy in Atlantic City is important.

Sweeney said that if it makes sense to bring gaming to North Jersey then he will look to do it going forward. He said that at the end of five years, the state was going to go beyond Atlantic City for gaming. He said that date is not that far away so right now state officials are looking to see if they can come up with a formula where Atlantic City can get help from a North Jersey casino. He said Atlantic City has benefited the entire state and that NJPAC benefited from casino funds. He said that when he looks at what was done in New Jersey, it is important to find a way to make Atlantic City healthy and be a more diversified economy. Atlantic City’s core mission was to fund programs for seniors and the disabled and it used to produce up to $500 million a year, which is now down to $250 million annually, said Sweeney. He said that the state has a commitment to the seniors and disabled that the state needs to find a way to meet.

According to Sweeney, there is zero chance of a ballot question in November to bring gambling to North Jersey, which he has said from the beginning. He said that the state can have a discussion about November 2015. When asked if it would take a ballot question to permit gambling elsewhere in the state, Sweeney said that it has to be done by ballot initiative because a constitutional amendment put gaming in Atlantic City to start with. There are deadlines that had to be met in order to take action this year and Sweeney said the state is not going to rush this because it is too important to get it right. He said that Atlantic County, Atlantic City, Cumberland County and Cape May County have the highest unemployment in the entire state. He said that what was just seen with the casino closures is thousands of direct jobs lost and there are also indirect jobs that will be lost because of the closures.

Sweeney said that the state is not going to lose anyone interested in building casinos in North Jersey if officials wait another year for the ballot question. He said that if there is a lucrative market and it makes sense, it is going to happen whether the casino is in Jersey City or Meadowland Racetrack. He said that permitting casinos outside of Atlantic City cannot be done before next year and he wouldn’t want it to be done any quicker unless officials knew that they could make it work.