Atlantic City casino decline means less support for county’s neediest
ATLANTIC CITY — With tax revenues generated by city casinos dropping by more than half over the last 12 years due to a downturn in the gaming industry and several big-name closures, Atlantic County services that rely on those monies are feeling the pinch.
A recent Press of Atlantic City report, citing state Division of Gaming Enforcement data, illustrated the disparity between the city casino industry's all-time high of $500 million in 2005 and the comparatively paltry $210 million that remaining gambling houses brought in last year.
"We had a good ride," said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who serves on the Casino Revenue Fund Advisory Commission.
Whelan said much of the casino money was designated, in the original enabling legislation from the 1970s, for transportation and nutrition programs for seniors and the disabled.
"They continue to be funded, but at a much lower level, and that affects, ultimately, the ability to deliver the service at that high level that we enjoyed for a while," Whelan said. "In some cases it's an inconvenience; in some cases, it's just really a total loss, where they're just not able to maybe get to the nutrition site on a daily basis the way they were previously."
The answer likely lies, as Whelan sees it, in combining resources Atlantic County already has — for instance, offering medical services in the same location as the nutrition site, so those who need assistance only have to make one trip, not two.
In his view, hiking taxes is not the solution; nor is asking the state to take money out of its coffers to assist a single county.
"Some people have suggested, 'Well, just raise the tax.' But, frankly, that's counterproductive because you're going to make the casinos less profitable," he said.
Despite the recent and collective nosedive of those casinos, Whelan said he hopes the resort city's economy is now stabilizing and "offering a better product." He points to internet gambling, specifically, as an avenue through which the resort town can be built back up.
But, he adds, there's "no magic wand on this one."
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