Chris Christie’s Atlantic City plan is to take on a gambling resort in a deal to stave off bankruptcy. Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian had threatened to seek protection from the city’s creditors in bankruptcy court, a prospect that could have embarrassed the governor, according to CNN Money.
Christie, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, detoured from stumping in New Hampshire to stand with Guardian, a fellow Republican, in Trenton and reveal their plans. The Atlantic City agreement falls short of an outright takeover by the state of the city’s government, but it would leave state officials to make all of the important decisions about how to reduce its crushing debt of $240 million and slash the size and cost of its civil services.
Stephen M. Sweeney, the president of the State Senate, had pressed for a full state takeover, and he said bills would be drafted to allow for the handover of financial controls. “We have to fix this government,” Senator Sweeney, a South Jersey Democrat, said at a news conference, flanked by the governor and the mayor. “It’s not Atlantic City’s fault, but they’re spending three dollars and taking one in.”
A Christie Atlantic City report this month from an emergency manager the presidential hopeful appointed concluded that the city could run out of money by the spring. “The urgency of the city’s current financial predicament cannot be understated,” Christie said, adding that he hoped the intervention would stave off the “last resort” of a bankruptcy filing.
Sweeney and Christie balked at offering details of how the state would bring the city’s spending in line with its shrunken revenue. But the senator said, “We have to do some things that are very, very dramatic.” Guardian said that city officials “were certainly against a takeover” but that they “need the force that the state brings with it” to redo contracts with Civil Service unions and to renegotiate debts.
Having to capitulate to the state government was the latest in a series of indignities suffered by Atlantic City, once seen as the glittering jewel of the Jersey Shore. Four of the resort’s 12 casinos shut down in 2014, throwing thousands of employees out of work and shrinking the city’s tax base. On Friday, Standard & Poor’s Rating Service cut the city’s debt four levels to CCC–, a rating it reserves for borrowers that are “currently vulnerable to nonpayment.”
The decline was evident on Tuesday along the city’s boardwalk. The sun shone as waves crashed on the beach, but stores and restaurants were either closed or largely empty at midday.
Denise Petrino and her friend Jean Grace marveled at the quiet as the wandered around the shops on a pier near Caesars casino. “You could shoot a cannon through these places,” Petrino said. A retired casino marketing executive from nearby Egg Harbor Township, Grace recalled how crowded the casinos were when superstars like Frank Sinatra regularly performed on their stages. “To see what it was and to see what it is, for me is very sad,” she said.
Petrino said she blamed the local government for the high rate of crime and the lack of attractions beyond gambling. “You can’t come at nighttime because it’s too scary,” she said.
Christie and state lawmakers have tried various methods to turn around the city’s fortunes, including allowing online gambling and developing new attractions. Still, the expansion of casino gambling in neighboring states has continued to draw people from Atlantic City.
Another Christie Atlantic City report reveals casino revenue has been cut in half in a decade, to $2.56 billion last year from $5.2 billion in 2006. And now lawmakers are contemplating ending the city’s monopoly on gambling by opening the door to casinos in North Jersey, close to New York City.