More than two months have elapsed since Gov. Murphy ordered the temporary closure of all Atlantic City NJ casinos on March 16 for health and safety reasons.
As of this writing, all nine Atlantic City casinos remain closed with still no clear timetable as to when they can reopen. It is by far the longest stretch of time in Atlantic City history that keeping the casinos closed has remained necessary. The prolonged closures of these vital businesses have taken a huge toll on the state’s economy.
However, opening the casinos too soon would create obvious health risks. And lack of consensus about how to proceed has created more delays.
According to a May 21 article on PressofAtlanticCity.com, the two top elected officials in the State of New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy and State Senate President Steve Sweeney, don’t see eye to eye on this issue. They adamantly disagree about the speed with which it would be prudent for the Atlantic City casinos to reopen.
Where Gov. Murphy stands on the matter
On Thurs., May 21, Murphy issued a statement clarifying why he favors being extra cautious. He acknowledged that the casinos are “an overwhelmingly important employment element of our economy.” However, he also described them as “a tough nut” to crack. He said that the decision on when they can safely reopen is more complicated than for many other businesses.
For example, Murphy expressed concern that the indoor spaces might not provide sufficient ventilation.
Where Sweeney stands on the issue
Meanwhile Sweeney told The Press of Atlantic City that the governor has been sitting on the plan submitted by the Casino Association of New Jersey and AtlantiCare for too long.
“[The Casinos} need to get back up and going again,” Sweeney said. “They need to put people back to work.”
Sweeney agreed with Murphy that bringing back the casinos would be tough. But he doesn’t feel that the State can afford to wait much longer because the industry is already “in trouble.”
How far along Atlantic City is now in determining when the casinos can reopen
Gov. Murphy stated that the plan that the Casino Association of New Jersey and AtlantiCare submitted is currently being reviewed.
Meanwhile, the governor has recently started to permit some “nonessential” businesses to resume operations. However, many small retail and service operators remain closed.
Along with the limited business reopenings, the Atlantic City industry has sought advice from Las Vegas casino operators. Together, they have begun trying to come up with viable solutions. However, these additional discussions take time.
Sweeney said that if Gov. Murphy or the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) wants to make changes to the plan submitted to them, he sees no problem with it. However, he wants any such decisions to happen sooner rather than later to prevent continuing long-lasting economic harm to New Jersey.
New Jersey lags behind several other states such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, which have already approved and publicized detailed plans for the safe reopening of their casino hotels.
What is at stake for New Jersey if the casinos remain closed during the summer, the busiest time of year?
Obviously, premature opening before the spread of new coronavirus cases can be better contained could be devastating. And enforceable rules regarding required social distancing, capacity restrictions, wearing masks, and ensuring enhanced cleaning and sanitation policies must be established.
However, if the Atlantic City casinos don’t open soon, the economic crisis could go from bad to worse. At stake would not only be the loss of millions of dollars in state taxes and fees but also the loss of nearly 27,000 casino industry jobs and numerous other related businesses.
According to the American Gaming Association, the two-month closing of Atlantic City casinos could have already resulted in nearly $1.1 billion on lost economic activity for Atlantic City and surrounding areas.
A professor of economics at Stockton University views that figure as an underestimate. He believes the potential impact for all of South Jersey might be closer to $5 billion.