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Jersey Casinos Set to Close This AM?

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – They’ve endured hurricanes and blizzards, labor strikes and a parking garage collapse. If there’s one sure thing in a city of uncertain ones, it was always this: Casinos find a way to keep the dice rolling.

The dispute centers on Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s determination to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help close the budget deficit.

Not this time, though. Barring a last-minute breakthrough, Atlantic City’s 12 casinos will evacuate their gambling areas for the first time ever at 8 a.m., their hand forced by stalemated talks over a state budget in Trenton.

The casino-hotels, which attract millions of gamblers and vacationers every year, will remain open, but gambling will be shut down along with state parks, horse racing tracks, beaches, campgrounds and historic sites that are also being closed.

Slot machines will go silent. Dealers will be sent home. It would be the first time casinos have been forced to close since Resorts Atlantic City opened its doors in 1978 as New Jersey’s first casino-hotel.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine has ordered all non-essential state government operations halted, including the New Jersey Lottery. State offices have been closed since Saturday, keeping 45,000 state workers at home and without pay.

Workers in the child welfare, state police, mental hospitals and other vital jobs – about 36,000 – remained on the job, but they were working without pay.

Corzine planned to address all 120 state lawmakers at 9 a.m. to discuss the ongoing impasse. It was sparked by the state’s failure to adopt a new budget by Friday’s midnight constitutional deadline, leaving it with no money to spend and prompting the shutdown.

The dispute between the governor and his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature centers on his plan to increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit for his $31 billion spending plan. The proposal would cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, according to experts.

Assembly Democrats opposed to Corzine’s proposal said they could be ready to introduce an alternate budget plan, even though it could be filled with proposals Corzine opposes.

Up to 15,000 casino employees would be thrown out of work by the closings, and that number could double if the casinos remain closed through the weekend, according to Robert McDevitt, president of Local 54 of UNITE HERE, a labor union that represents rank-and-file casino hotel workers.

“They’re going to lose a lot of money,” said Jerome Harper, 42, of Philadelphia, who was playing a Triple Cash slot machine at Resorts Atlantic City on Tuesday. “It’s bad. Why close it down when you could just do your job and put the budget together? That’s what they’re paid for.”

Among the state employees furloughed are the casino inspectors who keep tabs on the collection, counting and certification of the money won by the gambling halls. Without them, the casinos can’t operate because the state would have no way to ensure that it receives its 8 percent share of the casino revenue.

The casinos, which have a $1.1 billion payroll and spend billions more on goods and services, contribute about $1.3 million a day to state coffers.

“This is what brings the money in,” said Bertha Arrington, 57, of Baldwin, N.Y., who was playing the slots.

Casino executives were busy Tuesday trying to make sure the shutdown is orderly.

Police Chief John Mooney said the sudden evacuation of the casinos could lead to problems with drunken driving, street crime and ultimately labor unrest. If the closings last, casino workers who aren’t being paid could make trouble, he said.

“This is a state-created disaster,” Mooney said.

 

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