By JENNIFER BOGDAN Staff Writer
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A brutal attack in a casino stairwell has prompted a New Jersey lawmaker to propose legislation requiring Atlantic City’s casinos to install surveillance equipment throughout their hotels and parking garages.
While state law ensures that gambling floors are monitored, no such requirement exists that casinos likewise record activity in their hotel and parking facilities, although some properties choose to do so.
Assemblywoman Celeste Riley has sponsored the legislation arguing that stairwells should be monitored with the same degree of attention as the heavily watched gambling floors overseen by thousands of cameras. The legislation would give casinos three months to install the systems in the stairwells of every hotel and parking garage. Footage would be preserved for one year.
Riley, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, would not discuss the details of the case that spurred the legislation. She declined to name the casino where the incident occurred but said she came to learn that the property did not have any cameras in its stairways.
“You’ve got surveillance cameras in the gaming areas. Can you not spend a little bit more in your stairwells, in your hallways, to promote added security and safety?” Riley said. “In light of what we’re trying to do as a state with promoting Atlantic City as a family-friendly destination, I think you should also be able to feel safe inside the casinos.”
Casinos meanwhile are fighting back, calling the legislation onerous and unnecessary in light of myriad other safety precautions already taken at the properties, including 24-hour security officers and bike and vehicle patrols.
Kevin Ortzman, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the industry already goes to “great lengths” to employ wide-ranging security techniques. Requiring casinos to go above and beyond the requirements of security measures in other public buildings places an unfair burden on the industry, said Ortzman, also the senior vice president and general manager for Caesars, Bally’s and Showboat.
“We believe that this legislation requires an unreasonably onerous commitment of resources and unfairly singles out Atlantic City casino hotels as the only public buildings in the city and state that would be required to comply with it,” Ortzman said, adding that the casino industry is supportive of the citywide camera program that would increase surveillance throughout the resort.
During a hearing of the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee earlier this month, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, the bill’s co-sponsor, described the attack that spurred the bill as brutal but didn’t provide any additional details. He acknowledged, however, that there may be a need to broaden the legislation.
“I know there’s debate with respect to whether we should be singling out casinos with respect to this type of monitoring. I’m open to having that discussion about whether this is something that needs to be a bit broader,” said Singleton, D-Burlington.
Legislation affecting the casinos is often sponsored by lawmakers representing Atlantic County, but that’s not the case with this bill. Assemblymen Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, both sit on the gaming committee and voted in favor of the legislation, which passed committee and now heads to the full Assembly.
Brown, however, said he’s not sold on the idea that surveillance cameras are the most effective way to increase security.
“I heard from my colleagues why they drafted the bill. Now, as we further explore the cost and feasibility of their plan to install cameras in every stairwell in every casino within 90 days, I am looking forward to hearing from the experts in the security field to see if this plan is an effective way to keep the public safe,” Brown said.
Mazzeo said he believed it would be in the best interest of the casinos to increase surveillance as that footage also might protect the properties from frivolous lawsuits. During this month’s hearing, however, he questioned whether 90 days would be ample time for the casinos to install camera systems.
“This is in both the long-term interest of security for patrons and I would think for the casinos as well,” Mazzeo said. “There’s lots of news about Atlantic City, and this would help improve that safety factor.”
Riley, who said a companion piece of legislation is expected in the Senate, noted that there are other reasons beyond the stairwell attack that suggest more surveillance is needed. Among them are two fatal carjackings in 2010 and 2011 that originated from the parking garage of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
Following the incidents, the casino made a $5 million upgrade to its surveillance systems in its parking garage, the casino floor and other areas of the property and added additional lighting.
“Things like the carjacking, that’s just upsetting. We want people to come to Atlantic City as a major source of revenue for the state,” Riley said. “It’s time (the casinos) step up and re-evaluate and make this a standard.”
The bill calls for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to develop specifications for the security systems and ensure compliance.
Kerry Langan, a spokeswoman for the DGE, said the division is not aware of any increases in safety complaints. Should the bill become law, the division’s security and surveillance departments would work to develop the specifications, she said.
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