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Governor Signs Whelan Measure To Keep Casinos And Racetracks Open

ATLANTIC CITY – Governor Corzine signed legislation today, sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, which will allow casinos, racetracks and simulcasting operations to stay open for up to seven days in the event of a State government shutdown similar to the crisis caused by the July 2006 budget impasse.

“The 4th of July weekend is primetime for Atlantic City’s economy, with visitors pumping in millions of dollars into hotels, restaurants and casinos in the resort,” said Senator Whelan. “Not only do casino operators rely on the economic activity over the holiday weekend, but dealers, hotel and restaurant employees, support staff, and a whole host of workers in related industries depend upon every penny earned in the busy July month. Under this new law, Atlantic City’s economy will no longer be subject to hijacking based on budget stalemates in Trenton.”

The bill, S-1463, amends the previous State statutes which required State overseers of the casinos to be onsite to maintain the integrity of their operations. Under the bill, the Casino Control Commission will be authorized to sanction internal controls to enable casino gaming to continue for seven consecutive calendar days during a government shutdown.

As amended, the New Jersey Racing Commission will be authorized to adopt similar regulations to allow State racetracks to also remain open during government shutdowns.

“One of the most exasperating issues with the 2006 shutdown was that casinos were begging us to let them stay open, and were even willing to foot the bill for regulators to stay on-site,” Senator Whelan said. “However, the way the statutes were worded, our hands were tied. Now, gaming facilities will have the flexibility they need so they do not lost out on one of the most profitable times of their year.”

Senator Whelan said the overriding impetus to enact the legislation is to ensure that the economic devastation to Atlantic City witnessed in the prime of the summer season of early July of 2006 never recurs.

“Casinos lost an estimated $50 million during the weeklong shutdown in 2006,” Senator Whelan said. “Workers lost three to seven work days, and between $8 and $9 million in wages. Thankfully, such a crisis will never be allowed to happen again.”

While the Legislature approved a budget well-ahead of the July 1 deadline this year, ensuring that such a deadlock would not occur, Senator Whelan noted that his legislation will apply into the future, to ensure that any future State shutdowns would not jeopardize the economic integrity of Atlantic City.

“I know that during this year’s budget negotiations, it was in the back of everyone’s mind that we might face a situation similar to 2006,” said Senator Whelan. “While I have no problems packing a toothbrush and staying overnight in Trenton if it means hammering out a budget which benefits the people I represent, those same people shouldn’t be held hostage while the Legislature comes to a budget agreement. Through this new law, workers in Atlantic City’s gaming industry will have assurances that tough State budget negotiations won’t mean lost wages due to a casino shutdown.”

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Monday, and received a vote of 78-1 in the Assembly.