New Jersey officials: Stimulus bill hurting Atlantic City casinos

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

A New Jersey congressman says restrictions on federal stimulus money are hurting gaming destinations like Atlantic City, and he is seeking to repeal a provision banning the use of funds for casinos or other gaming establishments.

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Is Ken Calemmo right to suggest that the gaming industry is as important as manufacturing, retail or finance?

"The demonization of gaming destinations such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City for business travel is wrong, wrong, wrong," U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo said Friday during a press conference in front of Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The $787 billion federal stimulus bill passed in February specifically prohibits casinos from applying for funds for infrastructure improvements and other similar projects. LoBiondo said Atlantic City is losing millions of dollars in business as a result of that provision.

Casinos' revenues dropped 19.2 percent in February 2009 month compared to February 2008, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. LoBiondo said $160 million worth of business and 120,000 visitors have chosen other cities for their tourism plans due to the stimulus bill, according to Atlantic City Convention Center figures.

The administration also recently determined other groups like nonprofit organizations and local governments may not spend their stimulus money at casino properties. State officials said the rules are damaging a major pillar of the New Jersey economy.

"Are those jobs somehow less important or less meaningful than those in the manufacturing, retail or financial industries?" said Ken Calemmo, chairman-elect of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

Anti-gambling officials said the stimulus law does not prohibit casinos from taking advantage of tax breaks, and Atlantic City officials should not complain about the stimulus bill because the city is too reliant on an unreliable revenue stream.

"There isn't a state, including New Jersey or Nevada, that could gamble themselves rich, any more than an individual could gamble themselves rich," said Tom Grey, field director for StopPredatoryGambling.org. "They should've diversified (the economy) instead of chasing their loss."

But Joe Kelly, chamber president, said 35,000 people work at New Jersey casinos, and thousands more around the state work for outside vendors that depend on casinos for their business.

"It is not just an Atlantic County issue. It is not just a Cape May issue," Kelly said. "There's purchasing done by every county."

LoBiondo is working to repeal the provision with U.S. Rep Shelly Berkley, co-chair of the Congressional Gaming Cascus, and has reached out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a history of representing the interests of the gaming industry.

Sources

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