Whelan-Van Drew Casino Bills Receive Final Legislative Approval

Measures Would Relieve Regulatory Pressures off Casino Industry, Allow Casino Employees to Run for Local Office

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, the Chairman of the Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, and Senator Jeff Van Drew, which would remove archaic casino regulations which hamper economic growth and would allow casino employees to run for local office was approved by the Legislature today.

“As that national recession continues to worsen, the casino industry is among the hardest hit,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “We need to remove some of the regulatory barriers to economic vitality for the casinos, and we need to give casino workers a voice in their local government. These bills will help strengthen the economic well-being of Atlantic City’s gaming industry and ensure true representative government on the City Council.”

“We are facing nearly unprecedented economic distress around the country, and have to look at areas where we can ease the pressure on struggling businesses,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic. “We shouldn’t micro-manage the casino industry, particularly in areas completely unrelated to gaming, and we shouldn’t prohibit people from getting involved in their local government. Through this legislative package, we’ll take big steps to even the odds on Atlantic City’s economic survival.”

The first bill, S-2519, would make various changes to the State’s Casino Control Act to remove minor provisions which hurt the economic vitality of Atlantic City’s casino industry. The bill would remove the registration and licensing requirements for non-gaming vendors who engage in limited transactions with casinos within a given year. The bill would also classify computers used in the monitor room of casinos as non-gaming equipment, allowing for the location of monitoring sites outside of Atlantic City. And the bill would permit a casino licensee to withhold a percentage of a poker tournament prize pool to be used to fund gratuities for tournament dealers.

“If you want to buy a pack of gum on the casino floor, that shouldn’t trigger levels upon levels of scrutiny on the people operating the vending machines,” said Senator Whelan. “This bill is about making it easier for contractors to do business with casinos when they aren’t participating in the gaming side of casino operations, and will give the casinos flexibility in contracting to save money. Obviously, the State needs to do its due diligence in protecting the gaming industry from corruption and fraud, but we shouldn’t be so hands on that we strangle the economic life out of the industry.”

The bill would also codify the current practice of barring an employee for reemployment for five years if their license or registration has been revoked. The bill would also make changes to casinos’ relationship with the racing industry, allowing casinos to pay more to out-of-State sending tracks for the transmission of simulcast horse races, and would allow casinos to simulcast the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in addition to the regular horse-racing season when the Breeders’ Cup is held in New Jersey.

Finally, the bill would set up provisions for unclaimed casino winnings, allowing the State Casino Revenue Fund and the casino licensee to split the unclaimed funds evenly in the first year, and 25% for the Casino Revenue Fund and 75% for the casino licensee after the initial payout. According to fiscal estimates, the State would receive $2.9 million in current budget year, and $3.9 million in FY 10 through this provision; currently none of the unclaimed winnings escheat to the State.

“At a time when every penny of State revenue helps, we should be exploring our options to maximize the revenues coming in and minimize the impact on our State’s taxpayers,” said Senator Van Drew. “By allowing the State to receive a portion of unclaimed casino winnings, we can hopefully divert funds to other priorities, such as education, health care and property tax relief for the hardest hit New Jerseyans. These funds may not be big ticket items in the budget, but they will help us meet our responsibilities to the people we were elected to represent.”

S-2519 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 37-0, receiving final legislative approval. It was unanimously approved by the Assembly earlier in the day.

The second bill, S-1987, would amend the Casino Control Act to eliminate the prohibition on persons employed by a casino and members of their immediate families for running for local office in Atlantic City, provided that they were employed by the casino at the time they took office. The bill stipulates that any employee of a casino who becomes a member of the governing body of Atlantic City would have to consult with the Local Finance Board in the State Division of Local Government Services regarding any potential conflict of interest which may arise as a result of their casino employment. Finally, as an extension of the current prohibition on casinos making campaign contributions for State and local elections in New Jersey, any person working for a casino who runs for local office in Atlantic City would be prohibited from making contributions to their own campaigns.

“The ban on holding elected office for casino employees doesn’t make sense, particularly when you consider that the gaming industry is such a big part of Atlantic City,” said Senator Van Drew. “A blackjack dealer should have the same right as anyone else to run for elected office, and especially when we’re trying to protect the industry for economic collapse, his or her perspective might be useful to the local governing body. By allowing for more diverse viewpoints to be represented on the City Council, we can ensure that Atlantic City has the representative democracy it deserves.”

“Our democracy works on the principle that anyone – doctors, teachers, lawyers, laborers – can run for office and be a part of their government,” said Senator Whelan. “However, casino employees have been kept out for a long time, and it’s time we change that. Everyone in the State should be allowed to contribute their skills, talents and perspectives to public service, and this bill ensures that casino employees are given the opportunity to have a voice in their local elected government.”

S-1987 was passed by the Assembly by a vote of 60-18, receiving final legislative approval. It was approved by the Senate in November, by a vote of 31-8.

Both bills now head to the Governor to be signed into law.

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