Atlantic City casinos say Christie's delay on financial assistance will hurt local taxpayers

Atlantic City's casinos say Gov. Chris Christie's delay in signing a financial assistance package could hurt the city's taxpayers.

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The Casino Association of New Jersey on Monday urged Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, to sign a package of five bills. It was the second time they had called on him to take action on the measures.

The group says failure to enact the laws will cost Atlantic City $50 million this year — money that would have to come from the city's already-strapped taxpayers.

"As the clock continues to tick while we wait for Governor Christie to sign the Atlantic City revitalization legislation, the price of inaction continues to grow and the fate of Atlantic City and the region hang in the balance," it said in a statement.

A central provision would let Atlantic City's eight casinos make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years, allowing them to know exactly how much they owe instead of facing huge potential increases each year. In return, the casinos would be prohibited from challenging their tax assessments. Such appeals have cost the city dearly in recent years as its casino industry shrinks.

Others would create new state education aid just for Atlantic City although no amount is specified; mandate health insurance and retirement benefits for casino workers without mandating specific amounts of coverage; divert alternative investment taxes the casinos now pay for redevelopment projects to help pay down Atlantic City's debt; and eliminate the Atlantic City Alliance and use its $30 million annual budget for other, as-yet undetermined ways to help the city.

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The state Legislature passed the measures in June, but Christie has not yet taken action.

Christie's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The Casino Association reminded the governor that the aid to the city will only happen after the bills are signed.

"If this legislation is not signed this year, Atlantic City will lose approximately $50 million this year," the group said. "That means the city would need to replace that revenue by other sources — presumably the property taxpayers of Atlantic City."

Many of the bills in the Atlantic City rescue package grew out of a series of summit meetings on the resort's future that Christie convened nearly a year ago.

The measures are seen as critical to helping Atlantic City, where four of 12 casinos went out of business last year, and taxpayers are facing crushing tax burdens as there are fewer casinos to pay for most of the city's services.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC