Mark Giannantonio (right) president /CEO Resorts Casino Hotel, addresses issues as to the impact to Atlantic County if casinos expand to North Jersey. Olivia Caldwell (left) president Mainland/Pleasantville NAACP and Anthony Catanoso (center) owner operator Steel Pier, listen. Assembly Chris Brown hosted a town hall meeting at the Egg Harbor Township Community Center on English Creek Road, Monday July 27, 2015, to address public concerns on the possible expansion of casinos into North Jersey.

Dale Gerhard

Must five die for two to live?

Three to five Atlantic City casinos will close if Las Vegas-style gambling is approved for North Jersey via referendum in November, the CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel said Thursday during the East Coast Gaming Congress.

The closures will happen "fairly immediately" upon opening of new casinos upstate, Mark Giannantonio told casino professionals during a panel discussion on North Jersey gambling.

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An economic-impact study commissioned by Resorts, to be released in about a week, proves that dire prognosis and shows the crisis will radiate beyond Atlantic City, to the mainland, he told an audience at Harrah's Waterfront Conference Center.

"Our findings are quite clear. Three to five casinos will close. The fallout of those three to five casinos will be, potentially, 23,000 job losses," Giannantonio said. "Foreclosures will double, unemployment will double. I can go on with many, many more metrics."

“Somers Point, Galloway, Egg Harbor Township, Linwood,” the head of Atlantic City’s first casino ticked off. “Those communities will suffer immensely.”

In November voters will be asked about approving up to two North Jersey casinos. For now, the state constitution limits casinos to Atlantic City.

Supporters of North Jersey megaresorts, each of which must cost at least $1 billion to build, say the properties will help New Jersey retain gambling revenue siphoned by casinos in New York, such as Resorts World Casino in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers. Three upstate New York casinos are expected to open in the next several years and a Manhattan casino is considered by many to be more than an eventuality.

Giannantonio's grim forecast Thursday triggered a fiery rejoinder from Jeff Gural, the owner of Meadowlands Racetrack who wants to build a casino there.

“These studies are meaningless,” Gural said, blasting critics of intrastate casino expansion for “stupidly opposing this referendum” that, proponents of North Jersey casinos say, will for 15 years generate $200 million a year in subsidies to be used for development in Atlantic City.

"You guys are nuts," Gural said. “This is your best chance.”

If the referendum fails, “it’s coming back two years from now with nothing for Atlantic City.”

The $200 million per year is not guaranteed by the law scheduling the referendum. And the law does not specify the tax rate casinos would pay on North Jersey gambling revenue. Voters may be asked to weigh in without knowing those key figures, which would be detailed in subsequent legislation.

Without a tax rate, ”You don’t know what the true profits are going to be,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, who’s led the charge against North Jersey casinos. The promise of beaucoup subsidies for Atlantic City is a ruse, the lawmaker argued.

“Anybody who says ‘Don’t listen to studies prepared by experts,' you should question.”

“Why would they want us to not look at what experts say?”

 

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