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Murphy, sports betting takes center stage at AC gaming conference

ATLANTIC CITY — Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in May or Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature Monday, sports betting was going to be a focus of this week’s 22nd annual East Coast Gaming Congress and NextGen Gaming Forum at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center.

Lloyd D. Levenson, CEO of Cooper Levenson LLC and co-founder of the East Coast Gaming Congress, said the conversation around sports betting will differ now that Murphy has signed a bill legalizing it at the state’s racetracks and casinos.

“The manner in which (sports betting) is going to be rolled out is likely to be the main topic of conversation,” Levenson said Tuesday. “Anytime you have an event, starting with the Supreme Court decision (to overturn the federal ban on sports gambling in May) to the introduction of legislation in New Jersey to the governor signing that legislation, you have to expect it will be among the more talked-about aspects of gaming.”

Murphy, who will be a keynote speaker at the gaming convention Thursday afternoon, was at Harrah’s on Tuesday speaking at a labor union convention and was asked about the impact sports betting would have on Atlantic City.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Murphy told The Press of Atlantic City. “It’s a big game-changer for Atlantic City.”

The Governor’s Office estimates sports betting will produce about $13 million in tax revenue in the first year. But Murphy said the impact on the regional economy will be the real benefit for South Jersey.

“Folks don’t say it’s a big number directly,” he said of the revenue and tax implications of sports betting, “but I think it’s got big knock-on impact. You’ve got people who are more willing to go to the track or go to a casino and spend a weekend. It’s going to have a big impact on the economy.”

The legislation sets the tax rate for casinos at 8.5 percent, with an additional 1.25 percent payment to help market Atlantic City. Land-based casinos and racetracks can begin taking sports wagers immediately, with a 270-day window to comply with regulations put forth by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement and New Jersey Racing Commission.

Internet bets would be taxed at 13 percent and would begin 30 days after the rest of the law takes effect.

While sports betting — and Murphy — will take center stage over the course of the two-day gaming conference, Levenson said other topics are just as important, if not more so, in the long run, such as the June 28 openings of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino or the continued increase in revenue from internet gaming.

Other notables expected to attend the gaming conference are Geoff Freeman, the outgoing president and CEO of the American Gaming Association; Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel; Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International; Felix Rappaport, president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino; and Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.

Atlantic City officials announce 2018 budget with no tax increase

ATLANTIC CITY — Robert Ruffolo has watched his taxes climb as a city resident since 1973 and the owner of Princeton Antiques Book Shop on Atlantic Avenue.

But Tuesday’s announcement from city officials that the city’s 2018 budget won’t include a tax increase for city property owners makes him feel hopeful.

“I think it’s a positive sign that the financial situation is not as bad,” he said. “There’s a big problem with people investing in Atlantic City because they weren’t sure when the taxes would stop rising.”

Mayor Frank Gilliam announced at a news conference in City Hall, surrounded by City Council members, that the budget slated to be introduced this week came in flat.

It also would include a $500 stipend for city employees making $40,000 or less, he said. About 205 of the city’s 765 employees will receive the stipend, which will be distributed by Labor Day, he said.

“A lot of hard work and sweat has gone into this budget that we have,” Gilliam said.

The $225 million budget will be formally introduced during Wednesday’s City Council meeting. In 2017, the city’s adopted $222 million budget lowered municipal taxes for city property owners for the first time in more than a decade.

Gilliam said state aid, not cuts, helped keep the tax rate flat.

Officials did not provide The Press with a copy of the budget Tuesday.

Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said in a statement Tuesday the state is providing $3.9 million in transitional aid — less than the $13 million it was awarded in 2017 and $26.2 million in 2016.

“Today’s announcement by Mayor Gilliam and Council President Small demonstrates city officials are showing an understanding of the issues that Atlantic City faces and an emerging ability to find ways to solve them without resorting to property-tax increases,” the statement said. “This is a solid budget, and the city staff who worked diligently to draft it should be proud of their efforts.”

Council President Marty Small Sr., also chairman of the Revenue and Finance Committee, said city officials will continue looking for ways to raise revenue and balance the budget.

“This is definitely a great day in the city of Atlantic City,” Small said. “Remember, we’ve come a long way in two years.”

Bob Willman, 69, has lived in his house on Trenton Avenue in Chelsea Heights since 1985. He said he has watched his tax bill rise for years.

But he is seeing positivity in the city, with two new casinos due to open in June along with Stockton University moving in, he said, so his “hopes are up.”

“My taxes were somewhere between four and five hundred dollars a year,” he said. “They’ve gone up ever since.”

Charles Goodman, an Atlantic City activist, said no tax increase is better than an increase. But he said he has concerns about where the money goes — to help the residents or to help the tourists and casinos.

“Why can’t we have a special for our seniors to get some property-tax relief, especially realizing all of the additional monies that would be coming into the city?” he asked.

Small said 2018 was expected to be a “tremendously difficult year budget-wise” because of the city’s deferred pension and health-care obligations.

The council voted to approve $55 million in bonds to pay down the debt, and in April, the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city’s finances, announced $49 million in bonds had been sold to pay it down.

That bond sale helped prevent a tax increase this year, city officials said.

Wednesday’s City Council meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

N.J. patients, leaders feel 'betrayal' at government's target on pre-existing conditions

An estimated 3.8 million people in New Jersey have pre-existing medical conditions, and their health-care coverage may become more difficult after new developments in a federal court case.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Thursday the U.S. Department of Justice will no longer defend provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring coverage and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, leaving some New Jersey health policy experts, legislators and residents stunned and fearful of the impacts.

“The (Department of Justice’s) refusal to defend the ACA is yet another betrayal of our society’s most vulnerable by this administration,” said Amy Katz, of Egg Harbor City. “From their actions, it’s clear that they have little regard for disabled, elderly, pregnant or otherwise less than perfectly healthy Americans.”

Changes would primarily affect those with coverage in the individual market, or people who don’t belong to employer-based or group plans.

Before the ACA, health insurers could charge people more for coverage or deny them altogether for pre-existing conditions including cancer, mental illness, arthritis, diabetes, sleep apnea and even pregnancy.

After Texas and other Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in February declaring parts of the ACA unconstitutional, Democratic-led states, including New Jersey, joined the court case to defend the health-care law.

The Department of Justice filed a brief in court Thursday supporting Texas’ argument.

“New Jersey intervened to defend the Affordable Care Act because we feared that the Trump administration could not be trusted to carry out its constitutional duty to defend the law,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal tweeted Thursday night.

“We now know that we were right to be worried.”

What is most confusing, said Ray Castro, director of health policy at the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning advocacy and policy group, is that the pre-existing conditions protections were popular among some Republican congressional representatives.

Trump himself assured people protections would be included in a new health-care law that never came to fruition last year.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said last year one of the main reasons he voted no to repealing the ACA was because he did not see a replacement health-care law that maintained coverage for pre-exisitng conditions.

Jason Galanes, LoBiondo’s chief of staff, confirmed Tuesday those comments still ring true in light of recent developments.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the Democratic candidate for LoBiondo’s seat in this year’s congressional election, said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the Department of Justice’s action because people who may have pre-existing conditions through no fault of their own should not be denied coverage.

“People would have to pay for care either with insurance plans, with their own dollars, which can bankrupt them, or they end up in the hospital with a lot of medical debt that they can’t pay,” he said. “We can do better than that.”

Castro said if protections were repealed, New Jersey would likely fall back on old laws that prohibited insurers from charging people more in premiums for pre-existing conditions, but they could delay coverage for that health care for as long as 12 months.

“It’s life or death problems for some folks,” he said. “New Jersey’s laws are not nearly as comprehensive as the protections in the ACA, so the state would want to decide whether to amend its own law or not if this were to happen.”

Carlson says Miss America was ready for rebranding

Since being elected chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, former Miss America Gretchen Carlson has led the charge to change the way people look at the nearly 100-year-old Atlantic City event.

Months of closed-door meetings led to last week's announcement that Miss America would be eliminating the swimsuit portion of the competition.

Carlson spoke to The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday about the overall reception of the "bye-bye, bikinis" announcement and how the Miss America Organization looks to maintain a relationship with its hometown. 

Q: Last week, you made the announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America” about the changes to the competition, namely the end of the judged “lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit" category and changing the format of the evening wear category. What has been the reaction you have received?

A: Overwhelmingly, the reaction has been incredibly positive, and we’re really grateful for all the outreach that we’ve had. I’ve heard from a lot of people with varying reactions — everything from “it’s about time” to “this is a great move” and “this will be more inclusive for many more young women who maybe thought that they didn’t have a ‘perfect 10’ body.”

In the spirit of being totally transparent and honest, I’ll just also say that change is tough, and no matter what people are changing, when you’re dealing with something that’s been around for so long, you know you’re going to hear differing opinions. And we are incredibly accepting of every opinion. We live in a free world, and I’m sure some people want to see swimsuits still stay in the competition but at this point it was a unanimous board decision to move us into the 21st century of relevancy.

Look Back at the Miss America swimsuit competition

Q: How did the recently implemented Miss America board decide on making these changes?

A: We made this decision at our annual meeting that was held in Atlantic City during the last weekend in March. We looked at several different factors. We looked at our own opinions as former Miss Americas, former state executive directors and former state titleholders. We looked at a study that was done five or six years ago by a marketing firm which did extensive interviews with people about Miss America, and we looked at other research with a marketing firm we’ve been working with over the last six months, all of which the interviews were with stakeholders and former candidates, former winners, former volunteers.

Also, I went to the Miss America Reunion in Florida in January, where the whole mission of the reunion ended up being a bunch of whiteboards and sessions about brainstorming different ideas. Obviously, we have put together a board currently made up of stakeholders, which was very important when we started anew to have people who understand the system and have been involved in it for quite some time.

Q: The big quote from last week’s announcement was “We’re no longer a pageant, we’re a competition.” What other changes to the language of Miss America can we expect?

A: Even though on the telecast we had called it a competition for the last several years, nobody ever really paid attention to that. What we meant in re-pointing that out was that we are not a pageant, if you define that as women walking across a stage in high heels and a swimsuit, or if you define a pageant as women being judged on their physical appearance.

GALLERY: Miss New Jersey contestants arrive

Q: What about those who say “competition” invokes a negative “me vs. you” environment for the 51 women?

A: First off, we’ve called ourselves a competition for three years, now you have an issue with it? And also, the most popular shows on television are competition shows, any kind of reality show with regards to music or dancing is a competition. I don’t think we’ve come to the point where we’re not going to believe in being the best you can be. And by the way, as a former winner, I will tell you that the biggest opponent for me in the competition was myself. And I was only competing with myself to do the best job I could do. In the end, in 2018, I think it’s still okay to have a “competition.”

Q: Have you been in contact with Atlantic City officials?

A: We’re going to be in Atlantic City next week, and we’ve been in touch with CRDA via email since our announcement. On "Good Morning America," I thanked Atlantic City for hosting us, and for the first time this year, we’re going to be bringing ancillary programs to Atlantic City during the competition week.

For example, I will have my Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative on Sept. 8. We come in to do workshops that empower women who don't have the resources like I may have had to bring my lawsuit against Fox, regarding sexual harassment.

We’re bringing other programs in and around Atlantic City during the competition week with the 51 candidates. Those details are still being ironed out, but I think that it will be different from years past. We really want to be more integrated into the community than just coming for two weeks, saying “thank you very much” and then leaving.

Q: I noticed in the last news release Miss America 2018 Cara Mund was mentioned as an ambassador for Atlantic City. How is Miss America looking to promote the city? 

A: We are hard at work developing a partnership where it’s a 365-day-a-year partnership and not just two weeks. Cara has been in Atlantic City many times throughout her year. She was there for the annual meeting when I was last in Atlantic City, she did her Miss America Serves Day and she’ll be back at the end of the June when the Hard Rock is opening.

This is a mission that when we started back in January, we went to CRDA and we apologized for the way the relationship may have played out before and we said we’re a new team and we’re here to form a new partnership where we’re here to give back, so that’s what we aim to do.

mreil-pressofac / MICHELLE BRUNETTI-POST / Staff Writer  


Gov. Phil Murphy will be the keynote speaker Thursday at the East Coast Gaming Congress at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City.

Andy Kropa  

FILE — In this Oct. 17, 2017, file photo, Gretchen Carlson participates in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss her book “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Back Your Power” at AOL Studios in New York. The Miss America Organization is dropping the swimsuit competition from its nationally televised broadcast, saying it will no longer judge contestants in their appearance. Carlson, a former Miss America who is head of the organization’s board of trustees, made the announcement Tuesday, June 5, 2018, on “Good Morning America.” (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)