All bets off: Budget flap forces shutdown of Atlantic City casinos

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The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is eerily quiet. No one is playing any of its more than 4,000 slot machines; its 145 gaming tables are empty; the 125,000-square-foot casino is deserted.

And its a sure bet that if you visit the Taj Mahal or the Showboat or Harrahs or any of the eight other casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and youll find the same thing.

Thats because the unthinkable has happen.

Atlantic City, a gaming destination that welcomed some 35 million visitors last year, has closed all of its casinos and worse yet, there is no telling when they will reopen.

The casinos are caught up in a battle between the New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and the New Jersey State Legislature.

New Jersey, as it has in previous years, is facing a budget deficit. This time around, the deficit may force at least $2.5 billion in spending cuts.

To combat the deficit, the governor has proposed raising the states sales tax from 6% to 7% while the legislature has resisted.

Under the states constitution, the legislature was required to submit a budget for the coming fiscal year at the beginning of July.

Apparently frustrated by the impasse, the governor, citing state laws, said on July 5 that in absence of a budget and a way to pay state employees he would have to shut down all non-essential state services.

As a result, certain state employees, including those working at casinos, were sent home.

By law, the casinos have to have state gaming commission inspectors, Elaine Zamansky, spokeswoman for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, told TravelWeekly.com. They are state employees and they were not deemed essential employees, so they were pulled off the job, which means the casinos cant operate.

That in turn forced at least half of the 45,000 people who work in casinos in Atlantic City to also go home.

The result? Gaming in Atlantic City for now is a bust.

The casinos could reopen in a matter of days if the flap over the state budget blows over.

Looking beyond gaming

In the meantime, Atlantic City finds itself in the strange position of being a gaming destination with no gaming.

Consequently, casino resorts, such as the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa are playing up their non-gaming attractions to visitors.

Our guests are taking advantage of our non-gaming attractions at the moment -- the bars, the restaurants, the spa, the pool, Borgatas spokesman Michael Facenda said. But our primary revenue source is the casino.

It is estimated the state will loses about $1.3 million in revenue for each day that casinos like the Borgata, are closed.

Ironically, the Borgata recently opened an expanded gaming section, adding 36 gaming tables, 500 slot machines and an 85-table poker room.

We hope that this will be resolved real fast, Facenda said.

Meanwhile, Atlantic City -- which promotes itself as Always Turned On -- hopes that the temporary lack of gaming wont turn off visitors.

There is incredible entertainment and vibrancy, Zamanksky said. I think people will come and enjoy that.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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