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New Jersey lawmakers assess Atlantic City casino aid bill

TRENTON, NJ – A bill that would give Atlantic City casinos tax relief – and possibly prevent the closure of four of them – was before the New Jersey legislature on Monday.

The entire state Senate passed a bill to amend an existing law allowing the nine casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes in Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the school system.

The House had yet to rule on the bill as of Monday evening, and it was still unclear when a vote could take place.

Known as the PILOT Bill, it is intended to help casinos recover from the coronavirus pandemic by reducing the significant increases in these payments that would take effect if the bill is not passed.

“Failure to pass the PILOT legislation will have a further negative impact on land-based casinos, which are still recovering from this unprecedented pandemic,” the Casino Association of New Jersey, the casinos business group, said on Friday in a statement. The group said the bill would bring stability and help protect 20,000 jobs, among other benefits.

Casinos would pay the city, county and schools even more next year even if the bill passes; it just reduces the amount of the increase.

The casinos collectively expect to pay around $ 10 million to $ 15 million more next year if the bill passes. Without it, they say, their payments would have to increase by 50%.

Steve Sweeney, the outgoing Democratic president of the state Senate, has said that up to four casinos could close without the relief provided by the bill, although no casino has publicly made the claim.

Sweeney said after the Senate vote that the bill was needed to help casinos deal with the ongoing pandemic.

“This will continue the stability we started in Atlantic City,” he said, referring to past measures including the state buyout of Atlantic City and previous measures to cut costs for the industry. casinos.

Revenue figures reported by the state show that the total number of casinos continues to increase this year. But casinos say these numbers paint a distorted picture of their true financial situation by including money from internet gambling and sports betting along with the money earned by players in person.

Money from online and sports betting should be shared with third party providers such as technology platforms and sports betting.

This is one of the main reasons the bill excludes these two sources of revenue – the fastest growing Atlantic City casino industry – from calculations on how much casinos have to pay instead. taxes.

Casinos say their core business – making money from players in person – is down significantly from 2019, the year before the pandemic began.

While the two most recent casinos, Hard Rock and Ocean, have seen their in-person revenues increase since 2019, the other seven casinos have collectively fallen 22% since then, according to the Casinos Association.

The leader of the main Atlantic City casino workers union approved the bill to prevent possible closings of one or more casinos, as did the mayor of Atlantic City.

The first version of the bill was passed five years ago, when Atlantic City was reeling over the closure of five of its 12 casinos.

Easily able at the time to show that their businesses were worth less in a declining market, casinos have successfully appealed their property tax assessments year after year, helping to drive huge holes in the budget. Atlantic City.

The bill does not affect the state taxes that casinos must pay on Internet gambling income (15%) and online sports betting income (13%), nor the tax of 9 , 25% on income from in-person casinos.

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Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at @WayneParryAC