Earlier this year, Atlantic City casinos were on an impressive 21-month winning streak. Sports betting and internet gaming were thriving, and New Jersey’s sports books surpassed Nevada for the first time ever. With March Madness on the horizon, industry experts believe that the revenue growth winning streak would have only continue.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. The greatest health threat of our lifetime, the COVID-19 pandemic, devastated our state and local economy and indefinitely transformed our daily lives. Atlantic City casinos and hotels have been closed since March 16, and employees and their families face a long, uncertain road to recovery.
But the Atlantic City economic stimulus and relief bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) on May 5 help create certainty in an uncertain time. This legislation will help ensure this vital industry and its employees have a clear path forward as we start the process of rebuilding from this pandemic. By helping to advance the safe reopening of the casinos once the stay-at-home order is lifted, this legislation will help casinos welcome back thousands of hardworking employees and guests, while also protecting their safety and well-being.
Let’s be clear. This legislation is not advocating for a “tax break.” It is calling for temporary relief on taxes that only Atlantic City casinos pay in the Garden State. The truth is, Atlantic City casinos pay some of the highest real estate taxes in the nation, putting our casino industry at a competitive disadvantage to other states. Even still, the industry continues to serve as the backbone for New Jersey’s economy.
This initiative will also help stabilize an industry that is indispensable to our state and local economy. Passing this much-needed relief package will help Atlantic City casinos resume making purchases from the many local New Jersey vendors they support, as well as the tax payments that are based on casino revenue and employment. The New Jersey casino industry has made significant contributions to the state and local economy over the years, directly employed over 26,000 people, hosted more than 25 million annual visitors and, last year, paid nearly $500 million in local, county and state taxes. New Jersey’s casino industry’s annual tax impact to state and local governments is over $1 billion, and its total economic impact across the state of New Jersey is $6.45 billion.
In addition, New Jersey’s tourism economy relies heavily on Atlantic City, so it is important that our legislators help it recover from this unimaginable crisis. The most recent Economic Impact of Tourism in New Jersey report indicates that the Garden State saw a 4.9% growth in tourism in 2019, in large part due to Atlantic City. According to the report, visitor spending in the state increased 3.8%, or $1.7 billion, and “2019 growth was bolstered by a full year of the new casinos in Atlantic City, which opened their doors in June of 2018.” Atlantic County ranked first in visitor spending, increasing 5.3% thanks to Atlantic City casinos. Atlantic County also saw 23 million person-trips in 2019, which is by far the most of any county in New Jersey. Atlantic City casinos attract tourists to the Garden State and the seaside resort, helping to support local businesses and the business conference industry.
The casino industry has demonstrated time and again that it is dedicated to the communities it serves. Since the March 16 closure, we saw all nine casinos come together to support local food banks and community organizations by making generous food donations. Every year, Atlantic City casinos and employees volunteer their time as well as donate millions in financial resources to support local charities.
We have seen Atlantic City casinos come back from adversity in recent years. Casino closures, competition from neighboring states and the economic downturn once threatened the industry. But Atlantic City recovered, successfully transforming into a business conference destination and first-class resort with diversified offerings. The resort destination saw the opening of two new casinos, enjoyed four consecutive years of total revenue growth and once again became a hub of job creation, tourism and economic activity.
If we have learned anything over the years, it’s never to underestimate Atlantic City’s ability to recover stronger than ever and serve as an economic engine for the state and region. We know that Atlantic City can and will recover from this crisis, leading the way in rebuilding New Jersey’s economy. That is why this legislation is so important.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey hard, Atlantic City was on an upward trajectory. This smart investment to help this vital industry get back on its feet is just the kind of proactive measure New Jersey needs as it maps out the road to recovery. We have seen Atlantic City go through revitalization before, and my money is on Atlantic City coming out the other side of this stronger than ever.
As so many have said throughout this unprecedented crisis, we know that we will get through this together. That includes Gov. Phil Murphy and state legislators working together to pass this legislation as quickly as possible to help Atlantic City’s casino industry — and New Jersey’s economy — rebuild in the months and years ahead.
Michael Chait is president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber. Since 1914, the Greater Atlantic City Chamber is dedicated in creating a favorable economic climate with meaningful services for the business community.