A “Stay at Home” order issued by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on March 21 was lifted by the governor on Tuesday, offering another signal that encouraging recent decreases in COVID-19 cases in the state will allow more and more businesses to resume at least part of their normal activity.
Retail stores will be allowed to invite customers inside next week, with proper social distancing orders remaining intact. The same goes for outdoor dining.
Indoor religious services in the state may resume immediately, and outdoor graduation ceremonies can debut on July 6.
So a reporter on Tuesday asked Murphy about Atlantic City casinos and indoor dining — and if the former, what Murphy has called businesses that are “tough nuts to crack,” might be permitted sooner.
“We’re working like heck to get to casinos and indoor dining — we want to get there on both,” Murphy said. “I think you asked if casinos will come before indoor dining? I don’t have a definitive answer, but if I were a betting man — no pun intended here — I would bet ‘probably yes.’ But I hope both sooner [rather] than later.”
Murphy recently said that he hoped Atlantic City’s nine casinos, which have been closed since mid-March, would be reopened by the always-lucrative July 4 weekend. The rapid pace of go-aheads since Murphy’s remarks last week, plus Tuesday’s response, suggests the grand reopenings could come a little sooner.
Clock ticking for AC casinos
Every additional summer week of revenue is critical for the city because of the industry’s heavy reliance on the warmest months to buttress the annual bottom line. In 2019, January and February were the two lowest-revenue months of the year — and those are the only two full months the casinos have gotten so far in 2020.
Five of the nine casinos lost money in the first quarter of 2019, according to state regulators, leading several South Jersey political leaders — each of them a Democrat like Murphy — to start publicly pressuring the governor.
Several city casino operators such as Caesars Entertainment and Golden Nugget already have reopened in Las Vegas and in other regions, which likely would give Murphy administration officials more comfort in reopening.
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut reopened last week and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh welcomed guests back on Tuesday, while three Oneida Nation tribal casinos plan to reopen the next day.
Masks presumably would be mandated at Atlantic City casinos, mirroring the Connecticut sites rather than a mere recommendation at many Las Vegas casinos.
More Atlantic City new developments
The latest unemployment rate for Atlantic County showed that one-third of residents are without jobs — about double the numbers statewide and nationally. That, too, will be difficult for Murphy to ignore.
On Monday, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Jr. announced that he had issued an executive order allowing visitors to the fabled Boardwalk to be legally allowed to take a stroll while carrying open containers of alcohol, mimicking permissions already in places in tourist spots such as Key West and Nashville.
Last week, an Assembly committee voted in favor of two bills offering tax breaks and other financial incentives to the city’s casinos for up to three years.
Also last week, Mayor Marty Small Sr. announced a 5% decrease in the municipal tax rate — the second such drop in the past five years, with the rate holding steady in the other three years.
Atlantic County executive Dennis Levinson on Tuesday revealed that in spite of the unemployment spike, the county recently had its AA bond rating reaffirmed by Standard and Poor and its Aa2 rating from Moody’s Investors.
Finally, there are recently announced plans for construction of a $100 million indoor water park (which, though large at 100,000 square feet, would be less than half as big as a similar, yet-to-open attraction at American Dream Meadowlands entertainment and retail center).
It’s possible that by year’s end, Atlantic City might be fully back on its feet.
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