When the coronavirus pandemic and statewide shutdowns quickly put many American companies in great distress, the U.S. government and Federal Reserve responded with loans and even grants to help them survive massive revenue losses.
At first, the casino industry was left out of such help, due to the disdain for it in some political circles. A spokesman for Public Citizen, a liberal/progressive advocacy group and think tank, sniffed, “Granted they provide some jobs, but it’s not what I would consider a socially significant industry.”
The industry has had to lay off or furlough 652,000 employees and that’s not socially significant?
Well, at the end of last month a rule change allowed casinos with fewer than 500 employees to receive loans from the latest funding for small businesses. That doesn’t help the nine big Atlantic City casinos, which employ more than 27,000.
New Jersey legislators have stepped in with two bills that would help ensure Atlantic City casinos survive, preserve the biggest single segment of the region’s jobs, and get back to their prepandemic growth.
The first would allow casinos to borrow without interest the amount needed for their payments in lieu of property taxes (PILOT) to Atlantic City and Atlantic County. They’d have to repay it within three years.
Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato have expressed concern that the source of the loans, the state’s Property Tax Relief Fund bankrolled by the casinos, might run short. They and other state officials should make sure it doesn’t by securing the credit needed from the federal government — there’s lots available to states — to keep it whole until the casinos pay the money back.
The second bill would delay or waive various fees casinos must pay the state for six months to a year. That too looks appropriate, necessary and modest for an industry that contributes mightily to New Jersey revenue.
Senate President Steve Sweeney chose an Atlantic County Republican, Sen. Chris Brown, to work on the bills rather than the usual fellow Democrats Mazzeo and Armato.
This is a good time and subject for a bipartisan effort, so we expect everyone to be in accord on the bills soon and help get them to the governor’s desk.
Brown, Mazzeo and Armato must already be working together on one of their top priorities — fixing the disastrous unemployment claims system and getting jobless benefits to constituents who need them desperately. We hope they succeed there soon as well.