Drinking a cold beer or sipping a cocktail on the Boardwalk is one step closer to becoming permanently legal in Atlantic City following a decisive vote by state lawmakers Thursday.
The state Assembly unanimously voted in favor of a bill permitting public consumption of alcohol in designated areas of Atlantic City. The proposal must be approved by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy before it can become law.
Under the bill, sponsored by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority would designate open container areas in the Tourism District where guests could carry and consume open containers of alcoholic beverages. A person 21 or older would be permitted to carry one alcoholic drink purchased from a bar or restaurant within the designated areas.
“This is another way for businesses in the Tourism District to promote themselves,” Mazzeo said recently, adding, “the goal ... has been to make this a permanent law in an effort to continue revamping Atlantic City for a newer generation.”
The experiment of permitting public consumption of alcoholic beverages on the Atlantic City …
Other high-profile tourist destinations, such as Las Vegas and New Orleans, permit public drinking by adults of legal age in controlled areas.
Armato said the Atlantic City Boardwalk “makes it easy” for someone to move between casinos, bars and restaurants, but if they do so with an open container of alcohol, they can be issued a citation, with penalties that include fines, community service or jail.
“This practice is becoming outdated as more cities across the nation are relaxing liquor laws in tourist areas,” Armato said. “It’s time we revamp Atlantic City’s own laws to match this trend while continuing to keep the tourism area a safe and welcoming place to visit.”
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. recently signed an executive order temporarily permitting public consumption of alcohol on the Boardwalk, the Orange Loop and nonresidential areas of Gardner’s Basin. The order went into effect Friday and will expire in November or whenever Gov. Phil Murphy lifts COVID-19-related restrictions on bars and restaurants, whichever comes first.
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City officials, business owners and Atlantic County’s state representatives have been trying to implement an open container law for several years in an effort to create a more tourism-friendly Atlantic City. Last December, City Council narrowly approved a resolution urging the state Legislature to act on a bill that would permit open alcohol containers in certain areas of the city.
The state Senate unanimously approved the bill last year, but it never moved through the Assembly. The two-year legislative session in which that bill was passed expired.
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, reintroduced companion legislation in the upper chamber in February. The bill has been referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Local officials were confident the legislation introduced early this year would have been approved before Memorial Day, but COVID-19 caused a drastic shift in priorities.