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Atlantic City casino employment up 20 percent at end of 2018

ATLANTIC CITY — With the addition of two reopened properties, casino employment at the end of 2018 was up more than 20 percent compared to the same time the year before, according to data from state gaming regulators.

The nine Atlantic City casinos reported total employment of 27,927 in December, an increase of 5,749 jobs over the number recorded in the final month of 2017 when seven properties were open, based on self-reported figures with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

The double-digit percentage increase in casino jobs can be directly attributed to the June 27 openings of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino, experts said.

Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, said the most-recent casino employment figures were “definitely encouraging.”

“Employment appears to be stable and is growing,” Pandit said. “The fact that we added two new properties and (more than) 6,000 new jobs, that’s a huge positive and continues to drive the market.”

The two newest casino hotels accounted for 6,927 jobs, or nearly 25 percent of the total industry, in December 2018. The two operators pushed total casino employment over the 30,000 mark in July 2018, a benchmark that had not been met in nearly four years when 12 casinos were open in Atlantic City.

With a focus on entertainment, food & beverage, retail and other nongaming options at the new properties, Pandit said much of the industry’s growth is likely attributed to those areas.

The number of full-time jobs in December 2018 increased by 4,472 over the same month in 2017, while the total number of part-time positions went up by 16.

Seasonal and on-call employment in casinos increased 32 percent over that time period.

“We’re on the right path here,” said David L. Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. “We had a lot of bad years, but for the last few years we’ve been in a better position than we were three or four years ago. We just need to continue to fight the good fight to stay that way. It’s not easy.”

However, the increase in casino jobs has not directly translated to a regional economic benefit, according to Jim Kennedy, a former Casino Reinvestment Development Authority head who is now an Atlantic City regional economic and policy analyst.

Kennedy said key market indicators, such as an increase in housing construction or noncasino employment, do not yet indicate that Atlantic County, as a whole, has reaped the benefits of more jobs in the region’s largest economic driver.

“When you hire the numbers of employees that we’ve seen at the two new casinos, there are usually secondary benefits,” he said.

“None of that has happened.”

One reason is casino workers often hold the same job at several properties, meaning the overall impact on the regional economy is relatively small, Kennedy said.

Another reason is Hard Rock and Ocean Resort overstaffed for their grand openings and scaled back more as the offseason approached.

Based on the employment figures submitted to DGE, Hard Rock has decreased its total employment by nearly 15 percent while Ocean has downsized almost 16 percent of its workforce since July’s peak.

The existing seven properties averaged a workforce decrease of 5 percent between July and December of last year, which was the same percentage cut during the second half of 2017.

Pandit said the decreases across the industry reflect seasonal realities more than anything else.

He said if the industry is able to sustain the employment levels through the winter, the summer “will definitely be positive.”

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa continued to employ the most people in the industry, with 5,620 jobs reported in December.

Hard Rock was second with 3,750, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City was third at 3,294 and Ocean Resort was fourth with 3,177. Tropicana Atlantic City (3,070), Caesars Atlantic City (2,649), Bally’s Atlantic City (2,298), Golden Nugget Atlantic City (2,199) and Resorts Casino Hotel (1,870) accounted for more than 43 percent of the industry’s total employment.

The casino industry employed 5,796 Atlantic City residents in December 2018, according to state data.

In A.C., farmers talk climate change

The predicted effects of a warming planet on Garden State farmers are grim: crop failures, plant diseases and an influx of pests.

The topic was front and center at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City last week, where hundreds of growers from the state’s billion-dollar farming industry gathered for New Jersey’s 104th State Agricultural Convention.

“There were people for years that denied there was climate change. ... Now I think there’s more acceptance because they can see it on their farms and fields,” said Douglas Fisher, secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

For the first time, Fisher said, the event featured talks from experts on global warming, including climatologist and Rutgers professor Dr. David Robinson.

Robinson used maps and statistics to get his point across to a room packed with farmers: Climate change is happening in New Jersey, and it will affect the agricultural industry through extreme weather events, flooding and warming temperatures.

Six of the seven warmest years on record in New Jersey have occurred since 2006.

Warmer temperatures benefit insects and diseases, meaning farmers may have to change their pesticide use.

Nights are getting warmer too, Robinson said, not giving plants enough time to cool off before the sun rises again.

Last year was also the wettest since 1895, he said. Researchers say global warming is making extreme rainfalls more common. Excess rain can rot crops and make muddy fields difficult to work.

“If you’re a homeowner, you just know you didn’t get to rest your lawnmower much in the summer,” Robinson said. “If you’re a farmer, you had trouble in the spring, in May, planting ... then the problems continued into the summer.”

Convention delegates with the Vegetable Growers Association later passed their first climate change-related resolution, calling on all farmers to implement “feasible practices to reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.” It also urged the Department of Agriculture to provide input in state-level policies that address global warming.

The representatives come from dozens of industry sectors and New Jersey counties.

Bill Cutts, a delegate at the convention and a cranberry farmer, said climate change is expected to alter how he runs his business.

Higher temperatures are expected to create unsuitable conditions for blueberries and cranberries, which require long winter-chill periods. Cutts owns cranberry farms in Tabernacle and Washington Township.

With warmer and more humid weather, which is conducive to crop diseases, he’ll have to find a way to keep his cranberries chilled.

“We’ll need to run the sprinklers more to cool the berries down,” said Cutts, the American Cranberry Growers Association delegate, “but that could lead to more fungal growth.”

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Rob Swanekamp Sr. of Kubepak Growers of Fine Garden Plants sets up his display at the 104th State Agricultural Convention on Tuesday at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City.

Political philosophy a complex issue for black conservatives

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Melanie Collette knows racism is real, and said she has sometimes been treated unfairly by police.

“But more cops are helping than hurting,” she said.

For Collette, a pro-life Christian and conservative Republican, the liberal agenda — which she said assigns victimhood to people — isn’t the answer.

“They are not speaking freedom, they are speaking bondage,” she said of those who encourage black Americans to believe they need the Democratic Party and government programs to survive.

And that puts her at odds with many people in the black community. According to the Pew Research Center, black voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic, with 84 percent identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party. Just 8 percent of black voters identify in some way with the Republican Party.

“To say the color of my skin is the single thing that determines my political beliefs is ridiculous and racist,” said Collette. “It assumes that all African Americans have the same level of education, the same references, the same beliefs. A tenet of racism is believing everything is determined by the color of your skin.”

Many black Americans are silent conservatives, she said, who will tell her privately they agree with her ideas on self reliance, hard work and trust in God. But they are not willing to be public about their beliefs and subject themselves to the inevitable attacks that would follow.

Collette is one of a small number of black conservatives in South Jersey who are politically active and vocal about why they have rejected the Democrat agenda.

She has a radio show “MoneyTalk with Melanie” on SHR Media; has taught business technology at Rowan University and other schools; is a contributing writer at Politichicks and The Horn News; hosts weekly on SiriusXM’s “Patriot Tonight,” and is working on her doctorate in public administration, she said.

Always conservative in her beliefs, it’s only been in the last 10 years that she has gotten politically involved. She is the vice chair of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women.

“I have always been pro-life; always believed you should work for things you obtain; always believed in smaller government,” she said. “It’s been my experience things like affirmative action put a cloud over my education and experience rather than an enhancement.”

Her educational achievements, including a master’s in Public Administration, are often questioned, she said. She suspects that is because people assume her degree is more about affirmative action than hard work.

Since the end of the Civil War there has been a tension between two strategies for black Americans to move forward, said Temple University Professor Emeritus Thaddeus Mathis.

Political philosophies are determined by much more than just a person’s leanings toward a more conservative or liberal approach to life in general, said Mathis.

“Those natural tendencies are also being shaped by other forces, like what is happening in the family, in school, and how broad or narrow are a person’s social groups,” he said.

Especially since educational and professional opportunities opened up in the 1960s and 1970s, black families began leaving the inner city to live in suburban towns in integrated neighborhoods and send their children to integrated schools, Mathis said.

They may feel more comfortable joining the Republican Party and embracing conservative values, especially if they are successful business people and their economic interests are better served that way.

And if they live in an area where local politics are dominated by Republicans, such as much of southeastern New Jersey, they may gravitate toward the GOP as a way of participating fully, he said.

But other factors may still radicalize them, he said.

“Every time a young middle-class black person is stopped by the police, it makes them think twice about racial attitudes,” said Mathis.

Collette said she grew up, for the most part, in Cape May County, where Republicans are dominant.

“My cultural experience growing up near the beach was completely different than blacks growing up in an inner city. How can you say the black community is a monolithic, singular-thinking group?” she said.

She believes that religious beliefs and life experiences also give people different definitions of basic ideas like equality and liberty.

“In a liberal’s mind, equality means it’s OK to step on my conservative Christian beliefs. That’s not equality,” said Collette.

Black Americans didn’t join the Democratic Party en masse until the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era of the 1930s and 1940s, said Mathis.

The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was friendlier to black Americans than the Democratic Party for decades. It remained associated with emancipation, and the Democratic Party with the Confederacy, for almost a century.

“It was not until the Roosevelt era there was a major realignment of black people out of the Republican Party into the Democratic Party,” he said, during the Great Depression. “It had to do with the New Deal and policies more embracing of those left out groups in society.”