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article imageFinancially strapped Atlantic City considers gamblers' way out

By Nathan Salant     Jan 21, 2016 in Entertainment
Atlantic City - East Coast gambling mecca Atlantic City, N.J., is almost out of chances to save itself from looming financial catastrophe.
Mayor Don Guardian and other city officials plan an emergency meeting next week to decide whether to file for municipal bankruptcy or allow the state of New Jersey to assume control of its spending.
If nothing is done, the city could run out of money by April, according to the Associated Press.
Revenue is down by more than half, to $2.56 billion from more than $5.2 billion when the city had 12 casinos lighting up its Atlantic Ocean-facing boardwalk; now there are eight casinos and several of them are believed to be having money problems.
The municipal bankruptcy talk began in earnest last week after Gov. Chris Christie, a candidate for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination, vetoed an expected $33.5 million financial aid package for the city.
The bill would have eased casino tax obligations and allowed officials to redirect other tax and marketing payments to pay down Atlantic City's outstanding debt, the AP said.
Top city officials emerged from a meeting this week with the speaker of the state assembly to announce that the city council would hold an emergency meeting next week to consider filing for bankruptcy, a move that would require state approval.
"We feel it's extortion," City Council President Marty Small said after the meeting.
"It's no secret we need money . . . it's like like taking a knee in the fourth quarter; they're just letting the clock run out," he said.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, considered a likely candidate for governor next year, has proposed allowing Trenton to take over most city economic functions, including the right to sell off assets and land.
Sweeney said the legislature was suffering from what he termed "Atlantic City fatigue."
"Now, the mayor finally recognizes the severity of city's problems, but his plan to declare bankruptcy is the worst possible outcome for Atlantic City and for the state of New Jersey," Sweeney said.
"Putting the city into bankruptcy would have disastrous results for the city and could jeopardize the financial standing of other cities in New Jersey, resulting in credit downgrades and higher costs," he said.
The city would likely experience further employment cuts and reductions in services.
But just last week, Sweeney indicated he might support bankruptcy for Atlantic City if his takeover bill was not approved by the legislature,
Guardian accused state officials of stabbing him in the back by proposing assistance yet not approving any funding.
"We're shocked that the governor, who presented us with his bill, reneged on the funding," he said.
The mayor said bankruptcy would leave the city in far better financial shape by allowing it to pay off debt for "pennies on the dollar."
But Christie's office said the governor opposed extending any more financial assistance to Atlantic City and blamed its financial problems on bad management.
"Atlantic City government has been given over five years and two city administrations to deal with its structural budget issues and excessive spending; It has not," the governor's office said in a written statement.
"The Governor is not going to ask the taxpayers to continue to be enablers in this waste and abuse," the statement said.
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