New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s plan to dramatically overhaul Atlantic City and its casino industry came one step closer to reality last month when several of his proposals passed the state legislature. In an emergency vote held on January 10, lawmakers in the state Assembly and Senate approved two bills, allowing the state to take over various services in designated sections of the city and to reform the casino regulatory process.
State Senator Jim Whelan, who represents Atlantic City, said, “From a legislative perspective, this is probably the most significant thing to happen to Atlantic City since gambling was approved.”
The vote ended a contentious and often bitter legislative process that began when Christie announced his plans back in July on a surprise visit to Atlantic City. Among his broad proposals was the creation of a tourism district to be run by the state to boost the resort’s ailing economy. Opposition from the city along with political infighting and amendments marked the process.
The bill to create a tourism district passed overwhelmingly in the legislature. An amendment to the bill outlined the boundaries that would fall under state control. The existing Casino Reinvestment Development Authority would run the tourism zone and oversee an Atlantic City marketing plan. The fund and the creation of a comprehensive marketing plan would be brought about through a public-private partnership with casino involvement. The CRDA has 90 days after the bill is enacted to alter the tourism boundaries, which would require a two-thirds vote by the authority’s board.
The second bill would dramatically change casino regulation in the state, transferring many powers of the Casino Control Commission to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) and eliminating several regulations. Among other things, the bill will lessen licensing requirements imposed on some casino investors, and eliminate the requirement that casino inspectors be on the gaming floor and in the count rooms 24 hours a day.
The regulation reform will be closer to that of Nevada, streamlining the process, saving the state considerable money, but not impacting integrity. The bill transfers virtually all of the investigative power of the regulatory system to the DGE and reserves the right to actually grant licenses to the CCC.
Some present and former members of the commission disagreed with the bill, but their voices weren’t enough to sway enough legislators to vote against it. One concession in the bill directs the DGE to give preference to current CCC employees if they need to fill a job currently performed by the CCC.
Legislators estimated that the bill would slash between $15 million and $25 million in regulatory costs, which last year totaled $66 million for the two agencies. The costs were far and away the highest regulatory costs in the U.S., even though the agencies were regulating only 11 casinos. In Nevada, where more than 300 large casinos are located, regulatory costs are under $40 million.