TRENTON, N.J. – Atlantic City's casinos were ordered to close Wednesday, the latest casualty of a state government shutdown that entered its second day Sunday after the Legislature failed to adopt a budget by its July 1 deadline.
The head of the Casino Control Commission ordered gaming in Atlantic City to cease at 8 a.m. Wednesday — the day after the July Fourth holiday — if New Jersey fails to enact a budget by then.
Atlantic City's 12 casinos, which require state monitoring, have waged a court battle to remain open, and an appeals court was weighing the matter Sunday. There was no word on when a ruling would be made, courts spokeswoman Winnie Comfort said.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine said Sunday there was "no immediate prospect of a budget." State parks, beaches and historic sites also were expected to shut down Wednesday.
If the casinos shut down, the state would lose an estimated $2 million in tax revenue each day they stayed closed. Republican Assemblyman Francis Blee, whose district includes the casinos, said it was important for them to remain open.
"We will have tens of thousands of individuals, real people, that are going to be hurt by this," he said. "There will be bread-winners who are not bringing home a paycheck."
Corzine shut down nonessential government services Saturday after the Legislature failed to adopt a budget by its July 1 deadline, leaving the state without the means to spend money. Budget talks became heated this year as Corzine, a Democrat, proposed increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit.
Most Democrats in the Assembly and several Senate Democrats oppose the sales tax increase, fearing voter backlash and reserving any tax increase for property tax reform. Assembly Democrats proposed a series of alternatives, some of which Corzine accepted, but both sides remained $1 billion apart as the budget deadline passed.
About 45,000 state employees were furloughed Saturday. Corzine's order allows him to keep 36,000 state employees working without pay. Services such as state police, prisons, mental hospitals and child welfare were to keep operating.
The lottery and road construction projects were among the first to close. A state appellate panel on Sunday ordered horse tracks closed at the end of business Tuesday. It was not immediately known Sunday whether the horse racing industry would file further appeals to keep harness and thoroughbred tracks open past July 4.
Corzine was expected to meet in private Sunday with top Assembly and Senate leaders. Assembly Budget Committee members were called to the Statehouse and were discussing alternatives to a sales tax increase, panel chairman Lou Greenwald said.
The Senate is scheduled to meet on Monday, and Senate President Richard J. Codey has told senators to be ready to stay in session until a budget is adopted.
"Let's get on with getting this problem solved," Corzine said while touring a state police dispatch center in Hamilton on Sunday, emphasizing he couldn't "sign a bill that doesn't exist."
Republicans, the minority party in both the Assembly and Senate, have expressed frustration.
"I'm appalled that this reached this stage," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon. "It is very unfortunate that the Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the Legislature could not achieve a budget in place by June 30, and now all the people of New Jersey suffer as a result."
Some lottery sellers — and many customers — were surprised to learn that the games were being put on hold until the budget impasse is resolved.
"People will be angry, but we can't do anything about it," said Umesh Patel, 40, owner of Deli Delight in Ewing. "I don't know how long it's going to be, so let's just see what happens next."