ATLANTIC CITY -- Dice rolled, blackjack dealers returned to work, and slot machine bells rang noisily to life as New Jersey's idled casinos reopened yesterday after the governor signed an order ending the weeklong government shutdown.
Closed Wednesday because of a state budget impasse, the 12 casino-hotels rumbled back to life hours after lawmakers in Trenton put the finishing touches on a $30 billion budget in an all-night voting session.
Governor Jon S. Corzine's executive order cleared the way for lottery ticket sales to resume, state parks to reopen, and casinos to get back in the game. Corzine later signed the budget into law.
Under the budget compromise approved yesterday, Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. agreed to increase the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, but set aside half the new money to help cut property taxes. Corzine had wanted all of the $1.1 billion from the sales tax increase to go toward helping close a $4.5 billion budget deficit.
The shutdown had furloughed 45,000 state workers, including the state casino inspectors who by law must be present in New Jersey's 24-hour casinos. That forced the gambling halls to close, idling about 36,000 people and turning this casino mecca into a ghost town during its busiest season. The casinos had never before been ordered closed in 28 years of legalized gambling in Atlantic City.
``It was devastating for us to be closed for the time we were closed," said Joseph A. Corbo Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey. ``It's not a good thing for a tourism-based business to tell people they can't do what they're here for."
The closings hit the state treasury hard, cutting off the $1.3 million a day in tax revenues casinos pay to the state.