Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday gave final approval to a controversial plan to boost tax breaks for Atlantic City’s casinos during the coronavirus pandemic — which proponents say is necessary to stave off job losses and even casinos closures but opponents warn is a giveaway that will hurt taxpayers.
The legislation alters an existing law that allows Atlantic City’s casinos to make regular payments in lieu of property taxes to the city, Atlantic County, and the local school district.
Casino leaders say despite a boon in revenue from sports betting and online gaming, they need the measure to help recover from losses during the pandemic because of lagging revenue from in-person gambling.
“The casino industry is committed to growing and strengthening Atlantic City’s economy as we continue to revitalize our historic seaside destination resort,” the group said.
“We have had tremendous investment in Atlantic City by the casino industry in recent years that created thousands of additional jobs both in the casinos themselves and in related service industries,” the Senate president added. “We can’t afford to turn back the clock on the progress we have been making.”
The measure has been one of the most closely watched bills during the frantic lame-duck voting period before the next state Legislature is sworn in Jan. 11. It comes as Sweeney, a South Jersey lawmaker who has often pushed legislation focused on Atlantic City, is set to leave office at the end of the session after losing re-election last month in a stunning upset.
State data also shows in-person gambling is down 5.5% from 2019 levels. And casino executives complain they don’t collect all the revenue from sports betting and online gaming because it must be shared among technology companies and sports book partners.
New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank, said the law will provide at least $145 million in annual tax breaks despite casinos having “a banner bounce-back year in 2021″ and even though the original law gives casinos “special tax treatment.”
“Once again, the house wins,” said Peter Chen, a senior policy analyst for the group. “This losing bet for New Jersey deprives the state and its residents of much-needed public investments in schools, roads, services, and other building blocks of a strong economy.”
“We are going to sue for what we have coming to us, we’re in the process,” Levinson told the newspaper. “It’s just flat out unfair.”