NJ Govt Shutdown Closes Casinos, Worries Planners

A shutdown of the New Jersey government over a budget impasse could have a big impact on meetings scheduled in the Garden State, according to some meeting planners. They worried specifically about meetings in Atlantic City, which will take a big hit with the 12 casinos shuttered as of 8 a.m. this morning.

“That’s a major handicap,” said Charlene Beck, president of Cherry Hill-based Beck Associates. “There are a lot of people who are scurrying around now to get things ironed out.”

New Jersey lawmakers failed to agree on a budget by the July 1 deadline. As a result, all non-essential government services have been suspended and their employees have been sent home. About half of the state’s employees, including the monitors needed for casinos to operate, fall into that category.

The courts denied the casinos’ appeal to remain open, and Gov. Jon Corzine said he had no authority to make an exception. With the casinos closed, the state will lose about $1.3 million per day in tax revenue, according to news reports.

Beck said that in her experience, casinos usually have back-up plans for meetings. In the event of closures due to problems such as a labor strike, the other area casinos offer help. But with all of them closed, meetings will suffer, she said.

“You can’t change plans when it’s this close,” Beck said. “It’s a big problem. You don’t anticipate this. There wasn’t a lot of notice given on this for them to move it somewhere. The sales people at those casinos are going to be earning their money in the next day or two.”

The hotels themselves remain open, as do their associated restaurants, spas, shops and other amenities. Borgata spokesperson Michael Facenda said his property hasn’t yet heard from any worried planners, but if a group scheduled there objects to a meeting without gaming, it will try to work out a deal.

“We’ll handle them on a case-by-case basis and work with them to make sure everybody is agreeable to the procedure going to forward, whether it’s to switch dates or to keep it gong forward as scheduled,” Facenda said.

The main problem for a planner is not knowing how long the shutdown will last, said Samantha Bowerman, director of meetings and conferences for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, based in Jersey City.

“With the shutdown, if you have a meeting this week you have to cancel. If you have a meeting next week, you don’t know if you have to cancel,” she said.

Although the shutdown may have sent some planners and others in into various degrees of panic, Beck has faith that the industry will find a solution.

“Everyone is disappointed, but no one is angry because they know no one in the industry has any control over this,” Beck said. “Everybody has to pull together and work out the best scenario. They will do their best, they’ll find something.”