NJ to debate changes to 'boutique' casino law to entice developers for smaller gambling halls

New Jersey isn't giving up on its effort to attract small new casinos to Atlantic City.

The state Legislature plans to water down the requirements of a 2011 law designed to attract developers willing to build up to two new, smaller and less costly casinos with as few as 200 hotel rooms.

A bill to be debated Thursday by a state Senate committee would remove the requirements that they be new construction and that one of the projects eventually expands to 500 rooms. The new bill would let casinos be established in existing buildings.

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.

"This bill addresses a small-scale casino license, but it can help, so we should get it done," said state Senate President Steven Sweeney, the bill's sponsor. "Allowing renovated buildings to be used for a smaller, boutique casino just makes good sense economically."

Four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos have closed this year, and a fifth, Trump Taj Mahal, is scheduled to join them on Dec. 20. So far, 8,000 casino workers have lost their jobs this year.

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.

Sweeney last week introduced a series of measures designed to help stabilize tax bills for the city's eight surviving casinos and help Atlantic City pay down its municipal debt.

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