New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matt Plakin is seeking a stay of Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Blee’s August ruling. That action stated the state’s 2021 law aimed at reducing the nine casinos’ annual property taxes by tens of millions of dollars is unconstitutional.
New Jersey lawmakers and Governor Phil Murphy (D) last year amended how the state calculates its property tax assessment levied on the nine resorts through their payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) program. The 2021 PILOT amendment stripped iGaming and online sports betting revenue from the calculation beginning this year.
The casinos argued that much of their online gaming income — as much as 70% — goes to their third-party partners like DraftKings, which have little or no physical presence in Atlantic City. The gaming resorts said that revenue shouldn’t be included in a property tax assessment.
The casinos also convinced many state lawmakers that their financial health was in peril because of the pandemic, and without such property tax relief, as many as four casinos might close.
State Seeks Stay
Blee, in responding to a legal challenge to the PILOT adjustment brought by Liberty and Prosperity 1776, a New Jersey nonprofit led by attorney Seth Grossman, concluded that the PILOT change runs afoul of the state Constitution.
The superior court judge said the law essentially gave preferential tax treatment to a specific industry without a definitive public purpose, something that the state’s Uniformity Clause prohibits. The state is readying its appeal to Blee’s ruling, and in the interim, is asking the judge to issue a stay on his decision being implemented.
In a 50-page motion, Plakin reasoned that not staying Blee’s PILOT ruling would cause irreparable harm to Atlantic City. Plakin also believes the property tax change was lawful. He claimed it served a public purpose by “adjusting the taxation scheme to more accurately reflect actual casino revenues under traditional real property taxation principles.”
Plakin additionally argued that the PILOT change would strengthen the casinos’ fiscal health. And with the casinos playing a critical role in Atlantic City’s overall economy, the state argues protecting those approximately 22K jobs serve a public purpose.
The acting attorney general concluded his stay request by saying Atlantic City “will face tax and budgeting chaos” if the PILOT calculation remains in legal limbo, tied up in courts.
Grossman countered in his reply brief that there’s “no credible fact or expert opinion evidence that laws reducing taxes for a specific industry, such as casino properties, and raising taxes on other properties … increases the overall economic health of Atlantic City and Atlantic County.”
Grossman concluded by saying the legislature is barred by the Uniformity Clause from giving preferential tax treatment to “particular property owners for any reason.”
$315M at Stake
By removing iGaming and mobile sports betting income from the casinos’ tax assessment, the nine resorts stood to collectively save $55 million this year. State legislative fiscal estimates project the casinos to save between $30 million to $65 million a year through the 2026 expiration of the casino PILOT — or as much as $315 million through the remaining life of the PILOT.
Atlantic County will receive its full share of casino property taxes regardless of whether the PILOT change is allowed to proceed. The county successfully sued the state last year on grounds that the 2021 law violated its 2018 consent order.
New Jersey settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay Atlantic County the full amount it was to receive prior to the 2021 PILOT calculation amendment.
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