The Parker Brother’s game, Monopoly, was created during our country’s depression era. The board’s layout was inspired by the streets of Atlantic City where its creators spent many fond childhood vacations. New Jersey residents have a longstanding affinity for Atlantic City and I do not believe any of us want it to return to the state of urban decay that preceded the casino boom. That is why so many are focused on several proposed bailouts of this seaside resort.
But those who want us to get it right would be wise to ask these questions: who is really going to benefit from this bailout; what will Atlantic City look like when we are done? I applaud Speaker Vincent Prieto who wants to take a hard look at the plans before we ram something through the legislature. I share his concern for everyday workers and residents of the city while millionaires stand to walk away largely whole.
In the past, Atlantic City’s success mirrored the strategy of Monopoly – the more properties you acquire, the more development you build, the more financial rewards could be had. New Jersey taxpayers invested $300 million to help build the Revel Hotel and Casino. But in the end, this supposed game changer investment was like a bad card from the “Chance” pile.
Making matters worse, four of Atlantic City’s twelve hotels and casinos closed their doors. Three more are currently in bankruptcy, “taking advantage of the laws” as Donald Trump would say. Moreover, some hotels are filing for property tax appeals since their land has devalued. In fact, the Borgata casino is receiving nearly $150 million based off a recent judgment alone. The question should be asked: are state taxpayers expected to pick up the tab for the tax appeals under the bailouts? And more importantly, if we are making casinos whole, what about the average homeowner? Should state taxpayers pay their tax refunds as well?
This is especially so since Atlantic City casinos failed to reinvest in this gambler’s paradise, and as other nearby states have opened their doors to casinos, that financial success unfortunately dried up. Cheaper flights also brought many other tourists out west to Las Vegas where newer and bigger attractions caused our once thriving city to shrink.
Then there are Atlantic City’s utilities. The board game features the Electric Company and Water Works. Under the rules of the game, if you purchase the utility, water works, when a subsequent player lands on the space, they will pay their utility rates based on a roll of the dice.
But in the real game of life, the city could be forced to sell off its utilities and, in this case, ratepayers would roll the dice for the cost of their next utility bill. The city owned airport is another potential asset on the bidder’s block. Taxpayers in this regard, should think long and hard about whether we simply want to give power to the state to sell off the city’s valuable assets for a one-time fiscal shot in the arm.
Furthermore, the bailout plan backed by Gov. Christie gives single decision makers the authority to sell off city land holdings, including waterfront properties. Will these once valuable assets be sold off at distress sale prices? If that is the case, the old Monopoly board trifecta of owning Pennsylvania Avenue, North Carolina Avenue, and Pacific will be reduced to a “Free Parking” space. Only the purchaser will reap the benefits while taxpayers will have to settle for assets sold for pennies on the dollar.
All the while, no one has answered the important questions. What will Atlantic City look like after the bailout? What will taxpayers get in return for their investment? Without considering long-term consequences, both to the residents of Atlantic City or the taxpayers of the state, it will be just like the Monopoly board’s “Luxury Tax,” a space we should all avoid.