ATLANTIC CITY - Atlantic City's largest casino union is suing a New Jersey development agency to block $261 million in state tax reimbursements for the Revel casino project.
Local 54 of UNITE-HERE claims that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority violated the state's public-meeting requirements when the agency approved the tax breaks last month.
The union is asking the courts to overturn the EDA's vote. The lawsuit continues Local 54's lengthy fight against public assistance for the Revel casino, a project the union says has received preferential treatment from the state.
"We feel that the state should be doing things to raise all boats and not be playing favorites," said Ben Begleiter, a Local 54 research analyst. "It's likely that a couple of casinos could close as a result of Revel opening. We don't think the state should be in the business of picking winners and losers here."
Revel declined to comment on the suit, which was filed last week in state Superior Court and made public by Local 54 on Thursday. Laura Jones, an EDA spokeswoman, said the agency has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Assemblyman Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, urged Local 54 to drop the suit and seek a settlement outside the courts instead of pressing ahead with what he called an "acrimonious legal approach."
"Trying to slow down or stop the project in the courts is the wrong approach and doesn't help anyone who cares about a revitalized casino industry," Polistina said in a statement.
State support for the tax incentives helped Revel secure $1.15 billion in new financing last month to complete the half-finished megaresort. Revel's $2.4 billion project will include a 1,100-room hotel tower when it opens in mid-2012 at the northern end of the Boardwalk next to Showboat Casino Hotel.
Revel's tax breaks will help finance $125 million in infrastructure improvements and public projects in the run-down South Inlet neighborhood surrounding the casino site. The plan gives Revel Entertainment Group a total of $261.4 million in sales, corporate and hotel tax reimbursements over a 20-year period after the casino opens for business.
EDA officials cited Revel's 2,000 construction jobs and 5,500 permanent positions as factors in approving the tax incentives. Over the long haul, the state will reap an additional $3.2 billion in new taxes from the casino, the agency said.
Polistina called Revel a centerpiece of efforts to pull Atlantic City's tourism and casino industries out of their four-year slump. Atlantic City has been hurt by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states
"The reason that the building trades unions, residents and elected officials on both sides of the aisle are supporting this project is because success with Revel will bring more people to the resort and provide economic benefits in the city and across the region," Polistina said.
Local 54 immediately threatened to sue after the EDA's vote for the tax breaks on Feb. 1. The union began fighting Revel last year after plans first surfaced to give tax incentives to the casino. At that time, the union initially won court battles to force a citywide referendum on the proposed tax breaks. Gov. Chris Christie later signed a law to protect Revel from Local 54's litigation, scuttling the referendum bid.
The tax deal approved by the EDA in February is different than the original plans from last year. Revel withdrew its initial plans, but went back to the EDA after it lined up a new financing package to complete the project.
However, Local 54 contends in the lawsuit that the EDA violated the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act while voting on the Revel tax breaks at its board meeting. The litigation claims the EDA did not make the required public notices in advance of the meeting and also withheld key documents on the tax deal in violation of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
Local 54 also alleges the EDA "blindly approved" the Revel deal because it did not properly adopt regulations overseeing the tax reimbursement program.
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