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Atlantic City Eyes New Casino in Traffic-Ridden Area

Fri September 26, 2008 - Northeast Edition

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) For much of the past 30 years, the casino experience in Atlantic City has involved sand, seagulls and the Boardwalk.

Now in an effort to survive withering competition from Pennsylvania and New York slots parlors, the city is considering expanding casino gambling into areas that were never envisioned when gambling was approved here in the 1970s.

The City Council Sept. 3 approved changes to its master plan that will rezone parts of Route 30 to allow construction of a casino on the site of a former oil depot.

Approximately a mile from the Boardwalk and only slightly closer than that to the three marina district casinos, the proposed gambling hall would be built by Penn National Gaming in an area currently known best for traffic jams and sewage smells.

The vote came after about two dozen residents of the nearby Venice Park neighborhood urged the council to reject the plan, or at least defer it until Penn National officials could meet further with homeowners.

“The major problem will be traffic. Sometimes in the morning and evening, it’s extremely hard to get into and out of Venice Park. And that’s without this casino,’’ said Mike Johnson, vice president of the Venice Park Civic Association.

Matthew Glass, another neighborhood resident, voiced a commonly heard complaint: that there are plenty of other vacant sites within existing casino zones where a new project could be built.

“With all the current development in Atlantic City, I can’t fathom why you would want to put it so close to a residential neighborhood,’’ he said. “The residents of Venice Park do not want a casino in their backyard.’’

Representatives of several unions, however, supported the plan, saying it would bring badly needed jobs to Atlantic City.

And George Miller, an attorney for Penn National, said the company is flush with cash and ready to build, unlike many struggling casino operators or would-be operators in Atlantic City.

“They can build this project with cash,’’ he said. “We’re talking about spending $2 billion.’’

He said residents’ concerns about traffic will be addressed as the proposal makes its way through numerous levels of city and state approvals.

“If we’re not right about the traffic, this project goes down,’’ Miller said. “People have to be able to get to our building. If they can’t, we lose.’’

The resort city boasts 11 casinos, including ones by Borgata, Trump, Hilton and Tropicana. Out-of-state competition forced Atlantic City to remake itself and focus on more affluent gamblers who also demand luxury hotels, top restaurants and A-list entertainment.

The city also is considering allowing as many as four or five casinos on the site of the former Bader Field airport property. Penn also is interested in that site, and tried to get the city to give it development rights there in exchange for an immediate up-front payment to help keep local property taxes down.

But the city and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority decided to open the Bader bidding up to any interested parties in the hopes of getting the highest price and best plans for the site.

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