Update: Because the New Jersey state legislature was unable to pass a budget by its July 1 deadline, 12 Atlantic City casinos were forced to shut down last Wednesday. The lack of an authorized budget meant that the gambling inspectors who are required by law to oversee casinos, along with other nonessential state personnel, could not work, so the slot machines went dark and the roulette wheels stopped spinning. After both houses of the state legislature approved a budget overnight on Friday, Governor Jon Corzine signed an executive order early Saturday that allowed the casinos to reopen after the three-day shutdown.
This is the first gambling shutdown since gaming was legalized in the state in 1978. While exact numbers won’t be calculated for a while, news reports estimate that the shutdown cost the state $1.3 million for each day the casinos weren’t operating. Thirty-six thousand casino employees were furlowed during the shutdown, and the $16 million per-day loss of casino revenue could have cost the casinos as much as $48 million over the course of the shutdown. The state stands to have lost up to $3.9 million in lost tax revenue.
According to Elaine Zamansky, media relations manager with the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, this should not have had much of an effect on conventions, because this is a slow time for the city’s meetings and convention business. Other than a few small meetings, she says no large convention is scheduled until July 25, when the Penn-Atlantic Nurseryplans to bring 11,000 attendees to the Atlantic City Convention Center. Gregg Robertson, president of the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association, Harrisburg, Pa., says the shutdown didn’t cause him to lose any sleep.
Even if it hadn’t been resolved by his meeting dates, he didn’t think it would have had any impact on his show. ”The casinos aren’t why our people are coming—they’re coming for the education,” says Robertson. “Most of our attendees come from within a 150-mile radius, so people who want to gamble can go gamble anytime. I’m excited to be bringing our show to Atlantic City for the first time, because the facility is letting us do a whole lot more than we could in our previous location in Fort Washington [Pa.].”
Zamansky isn’t sure what, if any, longer-term effect the shutdown could have because, as she says, “This has never happened before.” While she does think some meeting planners might think twice about Atlantic City as a destination as a result of the shutdown, she’s hopeful that it is viewed as a one-time challenge, not an ongoing concern.
According to reports on Press of Atlantic City, hotel occupancies were edging back up to the normal 100 percent rate as of Sunday at some properties, which had seen declines to as low as 45 percent during the shutdown. Some Atlantic City operators and politicians are contemplating proposing legislation to designate state gaming inspectors essential employees, which would exempt them from future budget crises and prevent another casino shutdown from occurring.