Atlantic City's laid off casino workers swell jobless rolls

By Hilary Russ
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A man tries to peek into the closed Showboat Casino Hotel in Atlantic City

A man tries to peek into the closed Showboat Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey September 1, 2014. REUTERS/Tom Mihalek

By Hilary Russ

ATLANTIC CITY N.J. (Reuters) - The closing of Atlantic City's Revel casino has caused a rush of people signing up for unemployment benefits, with around 500 people lining up at a temporary resource center Wednesday morning.

Around 8,300 people are losing jobs with three casinos closing in less than a month - Showboat, a Caesars Entertainment Corp property, closed Sunday morning, Revel closed early on Tuesday morning and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino is due to close on Sept. 16.

"You have to take the ups with the downs, and you have faith in God," said 49-year-old Irene Seda, who was waiting to claim benefits after being laid off as a card dealer when Revel shut its doors.

Hundreds more are expected in the coming days at the center in Atlantic City organized by Unite-HERE's Local 54 labor union with state and local officials.

Atlantic County, which includes Atlantic City, saw the biggest nonfarm employment drop of all U.S. metropolitan areas in July compared with the same time last year, preliminary U.S. Labor Department data showed last week.

The latest layoffs will not hit official job counts until at least October. Increased competition from casinos in neighboring states has walloped the gambling industry here.

However, officials say the state's unemployment insurance trust fund can handle the swell of new claims.

During the recession, many states borrowed from the federal government to pay an influx of jobless claims. New Jersey was among them, but its fund began recovering last year and became solvent on May 1.

New Jersey had $610.1 million on Wednesday to pay out benefits, which are limited to 26 weeks per worker, state Labor Department spokesman Brian Murray said.

"No one can accurately estimate at this point what the financial impact of the casino closings in Atlantic City will be on the trust fund," he said. "We do anticipate the fund will remain in the black."

The city itself has a tougher road ahead. Its property tax base is likely to bottom out at $7.5 billion in coming years, Mayor Don Guardian said. That is down from $20.5 billion in 2010.

To make up the difference, the average Atlantic City homeowner has seen the total tax rate rise by 85 percent since 2010.

Residents cannot accept another year of skyrocketing taxes, Guardian said. "People will abandon their homes," he said.

Inside the unemployment center, people greeted former casino colleagues like family.

"We're a strong community and will get through this," said Chris Ireland, 55, who bartended at the Showboat Casino Hotel for 27 years. His wife Keisi is also losing her job of 14 years as a cocktail server there.

"I see nothing but a bright future," Ireland said. "I'm not about to leave this city."

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)