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The Associated Press March 10, 2010, 8:42AM ET

Union sues for vote on $300M NJ casino tax break

An Atlantic City casino workers union filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to let the public vote on whether a new mega-casino should get $300 million in state tax breaks.

Local 54 of the UNITE HERE union says the Revel casino, which could open next year, could push at least two other struggling Atlantic City casinos out of business, and argues the state shouldn't help that process along.

The union filed a referendum petition in January, but Atlantic City rejected it. That led to Tuesday's filing of a lawsuit in state Superior Court.

"I went door to door in my neighborhood collecting signatures because I believe this bailout of a casino company is just wrong," said Jean Stewart, a member of the union's petition committee. "The fact that the city is trying to prevent me from voting is one of the most insulting things that anyone has ever done to me."

Union president Bob McDevitt said the petition had nearly 1,800 signatures.

"If this bailout is such a good deal for the city and the state, why are they afraid to air it in public?" he asked. "What are they hiding?"

Last year, Revel applied for an incentive through a state economic stimulus program. The application is pending.

Under the deal, the casino would be rebated three-fourths of its sales and room taxes for 20 years. The company projects that will mean a $300 million tax break.

"We're not getting a $300 million lump sum tax break up front," said Revel spokesman Joe Jaffoni. "It's spread out over 20 years, based on the business we would generate."

The Revel complex is widely seen as the most crucial piece of Atlantic City's efforts to keep up with crushing competition from slot machines -- and soon, table games -- in neighboring Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York. The $2 billion ocean-themed casino is under construction at the northern end of the Boardwalk.

The nation's second-largest gambling market is in its fourth year of a revenue slump that began when the first slots parlors opened in the Philadelphia suburbs. It also lost a casino --and about 3,000 jobs -- when Pinnacle Entertainment demolished the Sands Casino Hotel to make way for a new casino that it later abandoned due to the recession.

The lawsuit also seeks details of Revel's application for state tax incentives.

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