- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — After three slotless nights at Resorts Atlantic City, Lucille Mock was packing her bags to head home yesterday morning when she heard the casinos had reopened.

“I lost $75 in the first 15 minutes, but that’s OK,” said Miss Mock, 49, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

New Jersey’s 12 casino-hotels, closed since Wednesday because of the state’s budget impasse, came back to life hours after lawmakers finished a $30 billion budget during an all-night session in Trenton.

The government shutdown formally ended last night, when Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, signed a $30 billion 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.

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., a 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 revenue 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 yesterday morning. “No business. Maybe it will be better now.”

The budget crisis began when Democrats, who control the state Assembly, balked at the 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, Mr. Corzine ordered nonessential government services suspended.

Under the budget compromise approved yesterday , Mr. 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. Mr. 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,” Mr. Roberts said.

The sales-tax increase will cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, according to fiscal analysts.

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