NJ ends weeklong government shutdown that idled casinos, parks, racetracks
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – After three slotless nights at Resorts Atlantic City, Lucille Mock was packing her bags to head home Saturday morning when she heard the news: the casinos had reopened!”I lost $75 in the first 15 minutes, but that’s OK,” said Mock, 49, of New York City’s Brooklyn borough.A weeklong government shutdown that shuttered Atlantic City’s 12 casinos formally ended Saturday, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a $30 billion compromise spending plan. Earlier in the day, he signed an executive order clearing the way for lottery ticket sales to resume, state parks to reopen and casinos to get back in the game.”I was hoping we would have something better to do than hang around the Statehouse on a Saturday night” Corzine joked before signing the spending plan – which includes a sales tax hike and property tax relief – shortly before 7 p.m. at his Statehouse office.He said it was “regrettable” that the budget was adopted eight days after the July 1 deadline imposed by the state Constitution, saying it was “something that should not have occurred and can never be repeated.”New Jersey’s 12 casino-hotels, closed since Wednesday, rumbled back to life hours after lawmakers finished the budget during an all-night session in Trenton.The shutdown furloughed 45,000 state workers, including the state casino inspectors who by law must be present in New Jersey’s 24-hour casinos. That forced the gambling halls to close, idling about 36,000 casino employees.”We’re back in business,” said Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa pit manager Bob Westerfield, unlocking a chip tray on a $100 minimum blackjack table.The casinos, which had never been ordered closed in 28 years of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, got the go-ahead to resume operations at 7 a.m., little more than an hour after legislators passed the budget.Like rebooted computers, they took a while to get up and running.Most didn’t start taking bets until 7:30 a.m., as slot machine systems powered up, dealers straggled back to work and gamblers filtered in.”It was devastating for us to be closed for the time we were closed,” said Joseph A. Corbo, Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey. “It’s not a good thing for a tourism-based business to tell people they can’t do what they’re here for.”The closings hit the state treasury hard, cutting off the $1.3 million a day in tax revenues casinos pay to the state.Restaurants, Boardwalk stores and other small businesses also saw profits dwindle when the casinos went dark.”It’s been slow,” said Mohammed Wazi Ullah, pushing his “rolling chair” rickshaw down the Boardwalk on Saturday morning. “No business. Maybe it will be better now.”The budget deal was also good news for lottery players, as well as the mom-and-pop retailers who count on ticket buyers to also pick up sandwiches, milk and other items.Curtis Shin, 22, who works at a convenience store in Ewing, said Saturday afternoon that many customers were not aware that lottery tickets sales had resumed.”People came in every day to ask (if they could buy tickets again), so I’m sure they’ll be back,” he said.Those who bet on the ponies were also glad to see the tracks reopen.”It’s great that racing is back,” said Bill Prongay of Brick, N.J., who hit a $240 daily double on the first two races at Monmouth Park.Monmouth Park missed two days of thoroughbred racing during the shutdown, while the Meadowlands Racetrack lost four harness racing dates.The budget crisis began when Democrats who control the state Assembly balked at the Democratic governor’s proposal to increase the sales tax.The resulting impasse caused the Legislature to miss the July 1 deadline for passing a new budget. With no authority to spend money, Corzine ordered nonessential government services suspended.Under the budget compromise approved Saturday, Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. agreed to increase the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, but set aside half the new money to help cut property taxes. Corzine had wanted all of the $1.1 billion from the sales tax increase to go toward helping close a $4.5 billion budget deficit.”With the budget crisis finally behind us, it is imperative that we move quickly to address the No. 1 concern of residents: New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes,” said Roberts.The sales tax increase will cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, according to fiscal experts.——-Associated Press Writer Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton contributed to this report.
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