New Atlantic City Mayor faces big challenges in short term

With USD 7 billion worth of casino projects on indefinite hold and gambling hall revenue plunging for the second straight year, new Mayor Lorenzo Langford has lots to do and little time to do it. Langford, a former casino dealer who served as mayor from 2002 to 2005, is back in City Hall again for at least the next year.

He took office this week amid a painful financial climate that has already seen hundreds of casino workers laid off, gamblers flee to slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York, and revenues shrink in a city that had grown accustomed to boom times.

Langford, who was legally sworn this week in a private City Hall ceremony, held a public swearing-in ceremony this week, where he steered away from specifics on how he might work to help the casino industry regain its footing. For now, he appears to be playing cheerleader-in-chief, promising the city’s 11 casinos that City Hall is ready to work with them, not against them.

„Our role is to convey the message that we are open for business, and to remove whatever governmental obstacles there might have been in place,“ he said in an interview after the ceremony. „The market conditions will determine the future of the casino industry.“

In his speech, Langford acknowledged the current hard times, but urged residents to keep faith with him. „We have some tremendous challenges before us,“ he said. „But Atlantic City has proven itself to be extremely resilient. We’re tough. We’ve demonstrated that. „As bleak as it may look on the local economy with the gaming industry, I know we’re going to be all right,“ he said. „Atlantic City is going to soar.“

So far this year, MGM Mirage indefinitely shelved its USD 5 billion casino-hotel project in the marina district that would have built Atlantic City’s largest resort, and Pinnacle Entertainment has done likewise with its USD 2 billion casino-hotel plan for the Boardwalk where the Sands Casino Hotel once stood.

Casino revenues are down 6.6 % over the first 10 months of the year, and this will be the second in a row that revenues have declined in Atlantic City, after 28 years of consecutive increases.

Joe Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry’s trade group, said the city’s 11 casinos need a steady hand now more than ever. „As the city’s biggest industry and largest employer, we’d like to see some more stability, and to the extent that Mayor Langford can provide that after a period that virtually no one could call stable, we’d welcome that.“

Langford is Atlantic City’s fourth mayor in less than a year. He lost re-election in 2005 to Robert Levy, whose unexpired term Langford will now finish. The mayor for much of the past year has been Scott Evans, a city fire department battalion chief and head of the local Democratic party, which was dominated by supporters of imprisoned former Council President Craig Callaway.

Langford’s term runs through the end of 2009, but he will have to start campaigning soon for another primary election next June that will select candidates for a full four-year term.