New Jersey is moving forward with its plan to allow smaller casinos in Atlantic City.
The state legislature is watering down the requirements of a 2011 law designed to attract developers willing to build new, smaller and less costly casinos with as few as 200 hotel rooms.
A bill that has passed Assembly and Senate committees removes the requirement that one of the two projects eventually expand to 500 rooms.
It also removes a requirement that they be new construction. The new bill would let casinos be established in existing buildings.
The changes come as Atlantic City lost four of its 12 casinos last year.
"High-end casinos with a price tag of $1 billion or $2 billion have gone extinct in Atlantic City, crushing the economy and forcing thousands of workers into unemployment," said Deputy Assembly Speaker John Burzichelli, a southern New Jersey Democrat. "This legislation will encourage those who want to build smaller casinos to do business in New Jersey and will enable owners of existing facilities to incorporate gaming into their business models."
The boutique casino plan was seen as a way to entice developers into the market at a much lower price than the $1.5 billion to $2 billion the city's higher-end casinos cost to build. Revel, which closed in September after less than two years, cost $2.4 billion and never turned a profit.
The most successful of the city's 11 casinos have 2,000 rooms or more.
No one has built one of the new casinos since Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill in January 2011.
Florida's Seminole Indians, through their Hard Rock International franchise, proposed one but pulled out soon afterward. Hard Rock is now partnering with the Meadowlands Racetrack on a proposed casino just outside New York City that they would build if the state amends its Constitution to allow casinos in places other than Atlantic City.
Curtis Bashaw, owner of the Chelsea hotel, says he's interested in his facility becoming a boutique casino.
The bills now go to the full Assembly and Senate for votes, which have not yet been scheduled.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC