TRENTON – A Senate committee today approved separate bills sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan to keep casinos open during a state shutdown and to fund an agreement that would have casinos provide $90 million over three years to support the horse racing industry.
The Senate Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee approved S-1463, to enable casinos to be remain open if there’s another State shutdown like the one two years ago when a budget impasse forced casinos to close for three days in July, costing millions of dollars in casino tax revenues and more than $50 million in related lost revenues to the casino resort.
“We never want another casino shutdown,” said Senator Whelan, chairman of the panel. “With this bill, State regulators can work out the rules needed so casinos can still operate if State workers are not actually on site.”
Senator Whelan said getting around the constitutional requirement that all “non -essential State employees” be sent home during a State shutdown would have the best legal chance with the bill, sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland.
Under normal conditions, State workers from the Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement provide on-site enforcement of the state’s strict gaming laws.
A flurry of negative legal opinions dampened interest in an earlier bill to declare state workers at casinos “essential State employees” and thus eligible to remain working during a shutdown, Senator Whelan said.
He also said there was agreement on the committee to add lotteries and horse tracks as state-regulated “revenue generating” activities who would be allowed to stay open during a State shutdown. But he said it was decided to either do floor amendments when the bill is voted on by the full Senate or do separate bills to add tracks and lotteries.
The second bill, S-1464, would continue the subsidy of horse tracks by the casino industry through a three-year, $90 million payout accompanied by a series of tax breaks on so-called restricted comps given to customers for use on site.
Senator Whelan commended the Governor’s Office, the Casino Control Commission and the Office of Legislative Services for expediting late developing aspects of the legislation.
“What’s important, once this (subsidy) agreement is finalized is that we move forward right away toward resolving something permanent,” he said. “The competition for casinos has grown intense and they’ve been good corporate citizens so their long term interests need to be considered.”
Both bills were approved with unanimous committee support.