The 2018 New Jersey law that legalized sports betting — following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for any state to offer Las Vegas-style wagering — featured a 1.25% tax on gross betting revenue that went directly to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA). That money was designed for marketing and promotion of Atlantic City by the CRDA.
But under the new bill, sponsored by South Jersey Democratic Senator Troy Singleton and recently introduced in the Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee, that revenue would instead go to “local property tax relief purposes for the City of Atlantic City.” Small said he hoped the bill would become a priority for the legislature in the new session that begins later this month.
Other Atlantic City goals for 2022
The mayor and his key aides spent almost two hours in a press conference discussing which goals had, or had not yet, been met from his State of the City address last February. The demolition of the former Trump Plaza casino and progress on opening a CRDA-funded ShopRite — the first major supermarket in the city in many years — were high on Small’s list of accomplishments.
Small added that a multipurpose recreation center also is in the works, as well as security cameras for Atlantic and Pacific Avenues near the city’s fabled Boardwalk.
A massive $100 million indoor waterpark could break ground this month, Small predicted, while otherwise deferring details to developer Bart Blatstein at his upcoming press conference. A “road diet” for Atlantic Avenue — slimming down from four lanes to two so room would be made for bike lanes and parking — will also begin this month, Small added.
Former Trump Plaza site a focus
Small is also eager to engage prospective developers about the site of the former Trump Plaza casino.
“That is the best property in Atlantic City,” Small told the ROI-NJ business website recently. “I didn’t realize how big it was until it came down. As a kid, it was always Trump Plaza, and was always connected to Boardwalk Hall. It is the best location, smack dead in the middle of the city, and it’s a tremendous development opportunity for someone. Now that we have got the building down, this administration will do all it can to assist [billionaire owner] Carl Icahn in developing that property.”
Small, who was reelected as mayor in November, also told the news outlet that he supported the major tax break for the city’s casinos that the legislature passed in late December and that Gov. Phil Murphy quickly signed into law.
“As mayor of the great city of Atlantic City, we’ve assessed everything,” Small said. “We’ve assessed the numbers. We looked at the various revenue streams and we’re satisfied. We’re happy that the bill has moved forward.”
Atlantic County pressing lawsuit
But Atlantic County officials have a far different view, having filed a lawsuit to try to prevent the casino benefit, which is a reduction in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) costs of about $50 million in 2022. County officials say the adjustment, which removes sports betting and online casino revenues from the PILOT calculation, will cost them $5 million to $7 million in 2022.
A Superior Court judge on Tuesday delayed a hearing on the dispute for 24 hours. The judge has expressed a preference for the issue to go into a mediation phase.
Central to the dispute are claims made by outgoing state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who argued that without the tax break, four of Atlantic City’s nine casinos could close — reviving memories of a similar scenario that occurred in the city in 2014.