By John Burton
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – The simmering controversy over whether to allow a casino boat to operate out of the municipally operated harbor may be rendered moot by a more than a decade-old state law.
Lisa Spengler, a spokesperson for the Division of Gaming Enforcement in the state’s Office of the Attorney General Office, said in an email, the division received four inquiries concerning the proposal and its legality.
The division’s director has assigned a deputy attorney general to work with the state Department of Criminal Justice and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, according to Spengler.
“The matter is being reviewed by those parties guided by state and federal laws,” she said in the email.
The issue arose after a heavily attended July 10 municipal Harbor Commission meeting. During the meeting a large number of residents voiced their objection to a proposal to operate a casino cruise out of the harbor. After the session a few residents recalled state legislation, dating back to 1999, which appears to prevent this type of operation.
The bill, A-983, was sponsored by then-assemblymen Kenneth C. Lefevre and Francis J. Blee, Republicans who represented the 2nd District in Atlantic County. Neither man is still in office.
The law, which remains on the books, states, “The purpose of this bill is to prohibit what are commonly referred to as ‘cruises to nowhere,’ vessels that embark and disembark from any point within the State for the sole purpose of conducting offshore gambling activities in waters within the State, the waters within three miles of the New Jersey coast, or in waters beyond the three-mile limit.”
The statute does acknowledge that federal law permits cruises beyond the 3-mile limit, “but allows states to prohibit gambling cruises that embark and disembark within a state.”
There is an exception contained in the law, exempting ships registered in the U.S. or a foreign country, traveling to another state, a foreign nation or a U.S. possession, “up to the point of first entry into New Jersey waters.”
The bill, P.L.1999, c.263, became law Oct. 26, 1999, with then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s signature.
Steven J. Corodemus, the attorney representing the harbor commission, referred questions to the Harbor Commission Chairwoman Jane Frotton, who, on Tuesday, said: “We’re looking into it. That’s all I can tell you at this point.”
Alvin Shuman, president of Diamond Casino Cruise, LLC, Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a principal in Casino Royal, LLC. The company would like to operate a 180-foot, three-tier boat out of the harbor that could transport more than 300 passengers two times daily year-round past the 3-mile state limit to gamble and drink. Discussions at the commission meeting earlier this month included talk about the possibility of providing such services as valet parking or off-site parking with shuttle buses to the harbor.
Area residents have mounted a campaign to oppose the plan, believing it would attract an undesirable element, cause parking and traffic congestion, and bring disruptive crowds and even crime to the borough.
Frotton told the crowd at the July 10 meeting the harbor commission would thoroughly investigate before offering its view on the Casino Royal proposal.
A call to Glenn O’Connell, a lawyer representing Casino Royal, and calls to Shuman seeking comment were not returned.