Whelan: Atlantic City Needs Bold Actions To Remain Competitive

Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic

Atlantic City—During the East Coast Gaming Congress’s 13th Annual Conference in Atlantic City, State Senator Jim Whelan said today that city and state government must act boldly to save the Atlantic City gaming industry, including dramatic changes to the regulatory structure and aggressive development of “dead zones” between existing casinos.

“Atlantic City is bleeding and will continue to hemorrhage – not just from the economic slump, but also as new gaming jurisdictions are coming online in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware,” said Senator Whelan. “If ever there was a time to take significant measures to change our regulatory structure and devise new guidelines for development, the time is now.

“We have to change with the changing times,” said Senator Whelan. “The regulatory model we currently use is not the model we would develop today if we were just starting out.” Senator Whelan added that New Jersey is the only gaming jurisdiction to require oversight by two regulatory bodies and suggested a merger of the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement. He also suggested that requiring casino inspectors to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week may no longer be necessary.

Senator Whelan noted that most of these suggestions would cost taxpayers nothing, but rather would achieve real cost savings and efficiencies. Moreover, as the economic engine of the region and as a large tax revenue raiser for the state, a better performing casino industry would benefit all New Jersey residents’ bottom line.

Senator Whelan also addressed the need to transform Atlantic City into a city-wide resort community.

“I strongly believe that to make Atlantic City a true destination resort, we have to talk seriously about developing the abandoned areas left between casino properties,” stated Senator Whelan. “This means using eminent domain, knocking down unsightly, abandoned buildings, and finding creative solutions to attract new casino operators into the city.”

Whelan suggested for the first time that legislators and casino regulators consider lowering the room threshold for casino operators. Allowing gaming floors on smaller hotel properties would help to encourage the development of the spread-out “dead zones” which exist between casino properties along the Boardwalk, he said.

The current room threshold of 500 hotel rooms was originally mandated in an effort to ensure that “that the existing nature and tone of the hospitality industry in New Jersey and in Atlantic City is preserved, and that the casino rooms licensed pursuant to the provisions of this act are always offered and maintained as an integral element of such hospitality facilities,” according to the Casino Control Act.

“If we do not act boldly and revisit some of our regulatory mandates, we will have no casino or tourism industry to regulate in Atlantic City,” stated Senator Whelan.

The East Coast Gaming Congress is an annual conference attended by the gaming industry, regulators and experts. Its focus is on East Coast gaming and addressing competition challenges within and outside of the industry.