TRENTON – A Senate panel today advanced a bill, S-1987, sponsored by Senators Jim Whelan and Jeff Van Drew to authorize casino workers to seek election to the Council in Atlantic City.
“This (bill) will broaden the pool of talented and concerned local residents who can help lead Atlantic City in these complex times,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “The stringent employment standards for casino employees will ensure candidates are of the utmost integrity.”
Senator Van Drew, D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland, said the bill would correct an injustice today based on fears from over 30 years ago, when the Casino Control Act was enacted, that casino workers would be an unsavory influence to any elected office.
“I believe it’s wrong to disenfranchise voters because of where they work or where they live,” Senator Van Drew said. “It is truly the ultimate liberty to exercise one’s right to run for office. This legislation would empower those who decide to enter public service, the voters and the South Jersey region.”
If enacted, the Whelan-Van Drew measure would enable more than 8,000 casino workers living in Atlantic City to seek election to Resort City’s nine-member council.
When the Casino Control Act first authorized gaming in Atlantic City in 1977, legislators at the time as well as former Governor Brendan T. Byrne vowed to do everything possible to keep the tentacles of organized crime from influencing Atlantic City and its governing body.
Supporters of the Whelan-Van Drew bill believe it is more than justified by the passage of time and the demonstrated community support expressed over the years by members of the casino industry.
The Casino Control Act, which created the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement, has emerged over time as an international model for the high level of integrity it has produced in the operations of the Atlantic City casinos.
“It’s time for Atlantic City to embrace the employees of the casinos as full-fledged members of the community with the right to seek the votes of their friends and neighbors,” Senator Whelan said.
“I am confident that the employees of the casinos will demonstrate that they are capable of enhancing the quality of life and government in Atlantic City by seeking election to the City Council,” said Senator Van Drew.
Though limited now to the City Council, supporters of the Whelan-Van Drew bill say it could lead to expanded opportunities for casino employees to pursue elective office.
The bill was approved by Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.