Casino Tax Break Bill Scrapes Through New Jersey Senate After Marathon Voting Session

  • The Senate voted 21-15 to pass S4007, with the state Assembly voting 66-2 on Monday night
  • Casinos will pay Atlantic City, Atlantic County, and the school system instead of property taxes
  • S4007 will now go to New Jersey Gov. Murphy who has backed the measure as “all good”
  • NJ gambling entities won $4.3bn through the first eleven months of 2021, well up on 2020, 2019
  • A senior policy analyst for a think tank described the bill as a “losing bet” for NJ and residents
New Jersey Statehouse, Trenton
New Jersey Statehouse (pictured above) in Trenton hosted a marathon voting session whereby lawmakers from both houses passed the controversial S4007, a tax break bill aimed at helping state casinos. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Controversial legislation

A polarizing tax break bill seeking to save at-risk New Jersey casinos from closure has narrowly passed through both houses of the state legislature after a dramatic marathon voting session. The 21-15 vote by the Senate on Monday represents the minimum threshold required to pass S4007. Meanwhile, the far more clear-cut state Assembly vote of 66-2 arrived late Monday night.

The bill amends an existing payments in lieu of property taxes (PILOT) law, permitting gambling houses to now make payments to Atlantic City, Atlantic County, and the school system instead of paying property taxes. Proponents claim it will help the ailing gambling industry survive the impact of the pandemic.

the last voting session of the year

Monday’s marathon eleven-hour convening of state Senate and Assembly represented the last voting session of the year, with dozens of bills on the agenda. A day and night of high drama began with State Police troopers locking a half-dozen Republican lawmakers out of the Statehouse. They tried to gain entry without showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test.

Up to Murphy to approve

The new-look S4007 will now go to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy for his approval. According to WHYY, Murphy declined to say Monday if he would sign the bill. He did, however, state “the approach, the notion, the direction” of the measure “conceptually are all good.”

S4007 will prevent job losses and help four at-risk casinos to recover

Proponents of S4007 argue it will prevent job losses and help four at-risk casinos to recover from pandemic-linked losses because of trailing revenue from in-person betting. Opponents, meanwhile, contend that revenue is up overall despite COVID-19 and that the bill will boost gambling halls at the expense of taxpayers.

If Murphy approves S4007, it would exempt sports betting and internet gaming from calculations on how much tax casinos should pay over the next five years. A fiscal analysis by the state’s Office of Legislative Services (OLS) estimates the new bill will reduce the 2022 basic PILOT payment by $55m. The OLS also posits that, post-2022, reductions through 2026 will reach between $30m to $65m, although some new payments would partially offset that figure.

Outgoing Senate President Dave Sweeney, the sponsor of S4007, insists that casinos are not doing as well “as people say.” After the Senate vote on Monday night, he affirmed: “Things are getting worse, not better, unfortunately.” However, Sweeney said the passing of S4007 “helps enormously.”

Counter arguments

On the other hand, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has released figures revealing the state’s nine casinos and three sports betting horse tracks collectively won nearly $440m in November, up over 52% from a year prior. The data also showed that the gambling establishments won $4.3bn through the first 11 months of 2021, up almost 69% and 34% on comparative months in 2020 and 2019, respectively.

Liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective weighed in by saying S4007 will provide a minimum $145m in annual tax breaks, despite casinos having “a banner bounce-back year in 2021.”

Senior policy analyst for the think tank, Peter Chen, lamented: “Once again, the house wins.” Chen added that the bill is a “losing bet for New Jersey [and] deprives the state and its residents of much-needed public investments in schools, roads, services, and other building blocks of a strong economy.”