Atlantic City casinos are expected to soon learn whether they will be collectively required to pay $165 million or $110 million in property taxes next year.
State lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) will have the final say regarding the proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) amendment.
Supporters of the effort believe gross gaming revenue (GGR) stemming from iGaming and mobile sports betting should be excluded from the property payment calculation, as much of that income is shared with third-party operators like FanDuel and DraftKings. Such iGaming entities are not nearly invested in Atlantic City’s future as the actual land-based casinos.
The fiery debate boils down to determining the fiscal health of the nine casinos, and if a tax break is needed. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has made the unsubstantiated claim that as many as four Atlantic City casinos could close without a PILOT change to lower their property payment obligations.
Opponents in Atlantic County contend that the PILOT change would hurt local taxpayers in the casino town, and that the resorts are doing just fine.
Statistics from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show that brick-and-mortar GGR remains lower than in pre-pandemic 2019.
Casinos won roughly $206.8 million from their retail slots and tables last month. That’s $17.1 million lower — or nearly eight percent — than November 2019. Through 11 months in 2021, land-based casino GGR totals $2.34 billion, a more than five percent loss from 2019.
However, when GGR from iGaming and sports betting is included, casino win through November stands at more than $3.85 billion. That’s substantially better than the $3.02 billion the industry won through 11 months in 2019.
The casinos argue that the bottom line numbers don’t accurately represent the health of their businesses, as much of the internet gaming income goes to those third-party online casino and sportsbook operators.
Not everyone is convinced that the casinos are hurting.
Atlantic City’s total gaming revenue in 2021 is already the highest seen in 12 years and it is approaching $4 billion for the first time since 2008,” explained James Plousis, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
The New Jersey DGE additionally reported last month that all nine Atlantic City casinos were profitable in the third quarter. Combined, the casinos posted a gross operating profit of $310.8 million. Through three quarters, profits total $592.3 million.
Heated Discussions Expected
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate are scheduled to discuss the Atlantic City casino PILOT bills next week. The industry claims that without its passage, thousands of casino jobs are at stake.
One thing is for sure — it’s difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders to determine the fiscal health of each casino due to the private nature of their revenue-sharing contracts with their iGaming and sportsbook partners.
Casino Association of New Jersey President Joe Lupo, who is also president of Hard Rock Atlantic City, has suggested that New Jersey reconfigure the way the DGE reports gaming revenue numbers to improve financial clarity.
Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism, says the implications of reformatting the PILOT bill are largely unknown.
“It is difficult to assess the statement that four casinos would close because there is limited public information available,” Bokunewicz told the Associated Press.
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