CCSNJ CEO: "DON'T GIVE UP ON ATLANTIC CITY"

The following is CCSNJ President & CEO Debra P. DiLorenzo’s statement given before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Debra P. DiLorenzo, President & CEO, Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey and a lifelong resident of Southern New Jersey. I am here today to express our organization’s strong opposition to SCR-185. Thank you for the opportunity to present our position.

I am here representing the largest and most active business organization in South Jersey because this is a South Jersey issue—make no mistake about it. And I am going to say it again—because it’s worth repeating—this is a South Jersey issue.

We unfortunately know and are living the impacts of competition so close to Atlantic City.  Let me bring you back to 2006—before the recent casino development in our neighboring states took place—when we had 11 casino hotels in full operation in Atlantic City, who posted $5.2 billion in revenue. Collectively, they directly employed 42,000 people living in one of the seven South Jersey counties.  At that same time, 1,684 vendors throughout Southern New Jersey sold $1.6 billion worth of goods and services to these casino hotels. The unemployment rate in South Jersey averaged 5.6%.

One year later, in 2007, two new casinos opened in Pennsylvania and Dover Downs in Delaware added significantly to its table games, slots and other amenities.

Since then, four other new casinos have opened in Pennsylvania, the furthest being 175 miles from Atlantic City and the closest 62 miles.

The City of Philadelphia recently approved another new casino adjacent to Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Stadium, construction of which is to begin very soon.

Since the opening of five new casinos and the expansion of one in our neighboring states, and within a three hour drive to Atlantic City, four of our casinos have closed—all in 2014.  The pre-2007 direct employee base of 42,000 is now at 23,700, a 56.5% decline.  Annual casino revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion to $2.8 billion, a 53.8% decline.  Vendors throughout South Jersey have lost approximately $1 billion in sales.  And the unemployment rate on average in South Jersey is 8.77%, vs. the 14 Central and Northern New Jersey counties whose average unemployment rate is approximately 6.11%.

According to the New Jersey Department of Labor, the three counties with the highest unemployment rates are Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland. Also noteworthy, these three counties in 2012 had the lowest median household income in our State.

At this point in time, and by many indicators, the Atlantic City gaming industry has stabilized. There is new investment and new interest. Tropicana, Resorts, Borgata, Harrah’s and Golden Nugget continue to reinvest in their respective properties. And noted Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein has purchased The Pier and is redeveloping it. Bass Pro Shop opened an 85,000 square foot new facility this year and Meet AC has landed the largest international trade show for meeting planners in 2016.  

There is no question and no doubt that this constitutional amendment will ultimately result in more Atlantic City casino closures, more lost jobs, less business for vendors and higher unemployment, especially given that anywhere from 35%--40% of Atlantic City casino customers hail from North Jersey and New York. As we understand the resolution, Northern New Jersey casino dollars will flow to Atlantic City and while well- intentioned, we believe will not mitigate the overall negative impact on the entire Southern New Jersey region expanding gaming will have.

We urge you not to let history repeat itself—please don’t give up on Atlantic City.