State casino regulators say they can't force the owners of two casinos to stay open another four months while new buyers are sought.
Three Atlantic City-area state lawmakers last month asked the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to require the Showboat and Trump Plaza to remain open past their expected closings dates this summer.
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In an Aug. 1 letter, commission Chairman Matthew Levinson told state Sen. James Whelan and Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and Chris Brown that deciding when to close a casino is a private business decision and beyond the commission's authority.
"The commission simply does not have the authority to direct a casino licensee to forestall a business decision to cease its gaming operations," Levinson wrote.
He added that while the Casino Control Act gives the commission authority to address the orderly shutdown of casino operations, nothing in the law gives it the right to force a casino owner to keep a gambling hall open longer than it wants to, or to give employees more advance notice than required by state and federal law.
In their July 22 letter to the commission, the politicians also said companies that close a casino should not be allowed to bar a new owner from running the site as a casino. But the commission says it can't require that, either. The Atlantic Club and the former Claridge casinos were subject to deed restrictions when Caesars Entertainment sold them, prohibiting a new buyer from running them as casinos.
"Deed restrictions are private, contractual covenants, and enforcement of them is a matter for the courts, not the commission," Levinson wrote.
The Showboat, owned by Caesars Entertainment, is due to shut down Aug. 31 unless a last-minute buyer materializes. In a meeting last week with Showboat workers, Caesars management had little new information on the casino's status, according to union representatives.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said last month that there has been strong interest in the Showboat, and that he would not be surprised to see it sold rather than shut down. But he had no such optimism about Trump Plaza, which is due to shut down Sept. 16.
The legislators' letter did not address Revel Casino Hotel, which says it could also shut down is a buyer is not found at a bankruptcy auction on Thursday.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC