Jersey gamblers get fix in Conn.

Jul 11, 2006 3:55 AM

The shutdown of New Jersey’s state government meant big bucks for neighboring Connecticut casinos. Last week, on the fifth day of the government shutdown, all 12 of New Jersey’s casinos were closed, due to unresolved budget issues. No approved state budget meant no money to pay casino inspectors, which meant no gambling in New Jersey.

Closing the doors on Atlantic City’s $5-billion-a-year industry left an estimated 20,000 without jobs. An early report by the Associated Press said the shutdown could cost the casinos more than $16 million in revenue, and deprive the state of $1.3 million in taxes.

New Jersey’s loss was Connecticut’s gain — Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods saw an increase in business as bus lines added new routes to take stranded gamblers across the state line. On the first day of the shutdown, slot machine revenues were up by almost 10 percent.

Fortunately for New Jersey, a budget deal was reached Saturday night. By the time this goes to press, Atlantic City will have awakened from its nap to the flashing of lights and the comforting jingle of coins.

LEGAL FODDER

In Rhode Island’s ongoing casino saga, lawyers are arguing over the legality of changing the state’s constitution. Last month the House of Representatives voted to give Harrah’s Entertainment and the Narragansett Indians an exclusive casino license to build their proposed off-reservation casino in West Warwick. If the legislation passes the Senate vote, a proposed constitutional amendment would appear on November’s ballot.

But Republican Governor Donald Carcieri’s administration has managed to keep the proposed casino off the ballot for the last two years, and they’re not stopping now.

The proposed legislation allows "A resort casino in the town of West Warwick, to be privately owned and privately operated in association with the Narragansett Indian Tribe, with tax proceeds from the casino being dedicated to property-tax relief." Attorney Joseph S. Larisa says this violates equal-protection guarantees by "granting a constitutional right to a single business entity and municipality, while excluding all others for all time," the Providence Journal reported. Larisa says that Harrah’s is going for total domination instead of playing fair.

Currently, the state Constitution says "all lotteries (including casinos) are prohibited except those operated by the state." In an interview with the Journal, Larisa proposes the change of a single word: "All they had to do is change the words -- ”˜except those operated by the state’ -- to ”˜except those regulated by the state,’" he was quoted as saying. "Then you’d have a Las Vegas, New Jersey, where there is extensive state regulation, but it doesn’t have to be operated by the state."

Harrah’s lawyer claims there is no stopping the ball once it has gotten rolling. Lauren Jones told the Journal, "There is no room for a party to step in to try to halt the constitutional process that is under way."