New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is bucking voter skepticism and pushing ahead with his plan to revive the Atlantic City gambling resort, where casino revenue has plunged the most since the first one opened in 1978.
Christie, a first-term Republican, took control of the tourism district in the 48-block-long coastal city of 40,000 last month and relieved the 11 casinos there of some regulations. He redirected gaming fees to clean up and promote the area, and provided tax breaks to help restart construction of the $2.5 billion Revel casino that stalled in 2009.
The intervention may come too late, even with Revel opening in 2012, said Dennis Forst, a gaming analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets. Gambling revenue in Atlantic City, the second-largest U.S. casino market, is down 30 percent from 2006. Older betting parlors may close as Sands Casino Resort in Pennsylvania, Dover Downs in Delaware and other rivals draw gamblers from Philadelphia and New York, he said.
“Outside competition is only going to increase,” he said during an interview in New York. “Atlantic City had 30 years to work this out, to make themselves indestructible, and they’ve wasted all of those years,” said Forst, who has covered the industry for 40 years. He received top rankings of analyst polls in the Wall Street Journal and Institutional Investor and Forbes magazines, according to KeyBanc.
New Jersey is seeking to halt a drop in the 8 percent tax on casino revenue that funds programs for seniors and the disabled. The industry gives another 1.25 percent of revenue to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which helped fund $1.8 billion of projects since 1984, including airport expansion and housing for casino workers.
Atlantic City’s gambling houses employed 33,272 as of last month, down from more than 45,000 in 2004, according to state data. The 8 percent gaming tax netted the state $260.9 million in 2010, down from more than $400 million in 2006.