- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

1:19 p.m.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s casinos ushered the last of the gamblers away from slot machines and tables today, and janitors locked the doors behind them as a state government shutdown claimed its latest victims.

In the first mass closure in the 28-year history of Atlantic City’s legalized gambling trade, all 12 casinos were dark.

Gov. Jon Corzine addressed the Legislature at the Statehouse this morning, defending his position as a stalemate over the state budget entered its fifth day with no deal in sight. Mr. Corzine wants to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to close a $4.5 billion state budget gap; lawmakers oppose the tax increase, estimated to cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year.

When the Legislature missed its July 1 deadline to pass a state budget because of the dispute, Mr. Corzine ordered the government shut down.

“It is deplorable that the people of this state are left in such a painful position,” the governor told members of the Legislature. “The people of New Jersey have every right to be angry.”

The closure of the Atlantic City casinos is a particularly hard hit. They have a $1.1 billion payroll, and the state takes an 8 percent cut — an estimated $1.3 million a day.

However, with no state budget, New Jersey can’t pay its state employees, meaning the casino inspectors who keep tabs on the money and whose presence is required at casinos are off the job.

State parks and beaches also were closed today because of the lack of staff.

Fewer than half of the state’s employees, about 36,000 in vital roles such as child welfare, state police and mental hospitals, remained on the job, but they were working without pay.

The doors to the boardwalk side of Caesar’s were locked by janitors. An announcement came over the public address system telling gamblers the casino was closing. At other locations, access was open to hotel-casinos, but gaming floors were roped off, with guards standing nearby.

“It’s like last call at a bar. It’s a little bit eerie,” said Michael Trager, 36, of Cincinnati, who was playing a video poker machine at 7:50 a.m. when an attendant told him to conclude his bet. “They said, ‘That’s it, you gotta cash out. We’re closing.’”

Democrats worked through the night on a new budget proposal that could be introduced today, but the governor, without being specific, dismissed alternatives. He called them “a patchwork quilt of unknown, untested and unvetted ideas that we hope will once again simply get us to the finish line.”

Up to 15,000 casino employees are out of work because of the closings, and that number could double if the casinos remain closed through the weekend, according to Robert McDevitt, president of Local 54 of Unite Here, a labor union that represents rank-and-file casino hotel workers.

The gamblers were well aware of the loss for the city.

“They’re going to lose a lot of money,” said Jerome Harper, 42, of Philadelphia, who was playing the slots at Resorts Atlantic City. “It’s bad. Why close it down when you could just do your job and put the budget together? That’s what they’re paid for.”

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