Atlantic City casino closings spell 'disaster'

Wayne Parry/AP photo Casino workers protested July 24 in Atlantic City, N.J., against the planned shutdown of as many as three casinos here by September. The Maryland Live! casino has shown an interest in soon-to-be laid-off workers in Atlantic City who are interested in relocating to Maryland.

Atlantic City, N.J. - The fallout over mass layoffs from three potential casino closings next month could have a severe impact on the New Jersey Shore economy, as those whose livelihoods depend on a thriving casino industry brace for the worst.

Local retailers, restaurants and other businesses that rely on casino workers are expecting a hit. Experts say the region could also see an exodus of laid-off workers, especially among those who live in Atlantic City, as they seek jobs and futures elsewhere.

About 6,500 workers from Showboat, Trump Plaza, and possibly Revel could all lose their jobs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, adding to the 1,700 who were let go in January when the Atlantic Club casino-hotel closed.

The number of layoffs "will have a detrimental rippling effect upon the regional economy, especially along the Shore," said Don Moliver, dean of the business school at Monmouth University. "Even with unemployment benefits to soften the personal impact, there will be far less discretionary income in the households, resulting in greater difficulty in making ends meet.

"Making rent, mortgage, car payments on a timely basis will create difficulties for many," he said, "and less discretionary funds mean less dining out, less trips to the Shore, less fast food, arcades, putt-putt golf, and the like."

He estimates the losses could easily run in the tens of millions of dollars, including to businesses that are forced to cut back on merchandise and lay off staff.

"Overall, the impact will be adverse," Moliver said. "Those who are chronically impacted may be forced to consider retraining themselves and/or relocate."

The suburbs that form a ring around the resort are home to more than half of all casino workers. They own homes, shop and eat in the communities.

"It's going to be a disaster," said Robier Soliman, who operates a limousine service that caters mostly to the casinos. "With 6,500 people out of work, you'll see a higher rate of crime, drugs and foreclosures. Another Detroit."

There's almost an apocalyptic mood in Atlantic City, where the resort is talked about in pre- and post-2006 terms.

That was the Shore casinos' best year, generating $5.2 billion in gambling revenue and when traffic was nonstop, year-round. That figure dropped to $2.9 billion last year, along with the vehicles.

"I did good money in 2006," said Soliman, the limo driver, of when he worked as a bartender at Trump Plaza from 2002-10. He started the limo service two years ago when the casino tips were no longer enough to live on.

Back in 2006, "you could see traffic at least five miles down," he said. "And now? Pacific Avenue is all empty. Only a big event, like a big-name singer, draws people here."

Soliman, 36, who's dating a Borgata Babe - a cocktail server at the city's top-grossing casino - said they may move to either Florida or California.

"She's not making any money," he said. "We're thinking of leaving."

Politicians have been busy attending rallies by Unite Here-Local 54, the union that represents most casino workers, since the closings were announced this summer.

As he marched alongside Showboat casino workers last month, first-term State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo recognized some of them. They are regulars at his family's grocery.

"I realized our own business was going to be affected," he said. "When people get laid off, they become very selective on where and how they buy things."

Cocktail server Ramona Karatzas, 49, is among 2,100 losing their jobs at Showboat. She used to shop once a week at the ShopRite nearby.

"I'm down to once a month, just to get the bare minimum," she said, since getting a layoff notice. The mother of three also recently got divorced and has put her house up for sale.

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