ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The dice stopped rolling and dealers quit shuffling yesterday as New Jersey’s casinos closed for the first time, the latest victims of a five-day state government shutdown that showed no signs of ending soon.
In the first mass closure in the 28-year history of Atlantic City’s legalized gambling trade, all 12 casinos went dark. With no state budget, New Jersey cannot pay its state employees, including casino inspectors who keep tabs on the money.
“I never thought this would happen,” said Ruth Dodies, 77, of Philadelphia, standing at a closed entrance to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. “It doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t.”
The shutdown could cost the 12 casinos more than $16 million that they normally would collect from gamblers each day, not to mention the $1.3 million in taxes taken in by the state.
The shutdown left boardwalk casinos eerily quiet. With all the gamblers gone, there was no ringing of slot-machine bells, no clinking of coins in their hoppers, no craps players calling out for luck as they rolled the dice.
The problem started when the Legislature became locked in a battle with Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, over his proposed sales tax increase. Lawmakers missed the Saturday deadline to pass a budget.
Without a spending plan, Mr. Corzine ordered state offices shut down Saturday and all nonessential state government operations closed. He furloughed more than half the state’s employees. Only about 36,000 people in vital roles such as child welfare, state police and mental hospitals remained on the job, and they were working without pay.
State parks and beaches also were closed yesterday because of the lack of staff, but overcast skies and rain kept most visitors at home anyway.
Mr. Corzine wants to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to close a $4.5 billion state budget gap. Democrats who control the state Assembly oppose the tax increase, estimated to cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year.
“It is deplorable that the people of this state are left in such a painful position,” Mr. Corzine told lawmakers yesterday. “The people of New Jersey have every right to be angry.”
Since the first casino opened on May 26, 1978, the gambling business here has blossomed into a $5-billion-a-year juggernaut, with a dozen casinos employing 46,000 people. In the process, gambling breathed new life into Atlantic City, providing jobs and fueling the growth of hundreds of small businesses.
The closures forced an estimated 20,000 people off their jobs as dealers, pit bosses and cocktail servers.
“No one wants to see people lose their jobs. We hope this gets resolved as quickly as possible,” said Linda Kassekert, chairman of the state Casino Control Commission.
While gambling ceased, the buildings — which also have restaurants, showrooms, stores and meeting space — stayed open. But many gamblers headed for the exits rather than stay.
“I came down here to have fun, and this is hampering my fun,” said Janice Sidwa, 60, of Williamstown. “Now we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do all day. What else do you do down here?”