Casino eyed for Wildwood downtown

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Mayor Troiano admits idea is a long shot

WILDWOOD — Mayor Ernie Troiano has an idea that he thinks will open up boarded Pacific Avenue businesses and bring visitors back to the block that used to rock.

A casino.

“The businesses need help and I think this would generate a lot of people in this area,” he said, but admitted it was a “pie in the sky” endeavor.

Troiano says he has put some feelers out there to see if it would be doable, but realizes the deck is stacked against him. In New Jersey, Atlantic City is the only zone where casinos can be licensed, as decreed by the state constitution.

Unless, Troiano says, a Native American reservation can be given back to the people that once called Wildwood home.

The idea isn’t new. In fact, in 1998, a Lenni Lenape tribal chairman named Larry Snake struck a similar deal with then-Mayor Fred Wager.  They planned to open a casino on a 2.5 acre parking lot at Schellenger and Pacific Avenues, which caused backlash from the state and garnered national attention. Voters in the city did approve the deal through a non-binding referendum, but it never came to fruition. 

Just a few weeks ago, commissioners voted to put that same parking lot up for sale, despite opposition from some downtown business owners. That lot, according to the Vision 2015 plan, was slated to become a “Destination Station” parking facility for the downtown and boardwalk. Many businesses currently lease out spots in the lot as well.

Troiano says that the city would have use for a parking facility like the “Destination Station” if there was a free-standing casino on Pacific Avenue. It wouldn’t be like the resort casinos of Atlantic City, where there are clubs, bars, and restaurants lining the casino floors and hotel rooms above them.

Instead, Troiano imagines the Pacific Avenue casino would be a place where fathers on vacation could go play a few rounds of cards while their families were at the beach. There would just be tables and slots, which would then promote foot traffic along the street when casino-goers wanted a bite or a drink, he said.

His ideal location is the site of the old Penalty Box bar, which is currently a vacant lot at 3400 Pacific Ave. That lot was the spot commissioners planned to purchase last year to build an ice rink, before the ordinance was rescinded because the Wildwood Watchdogs petitioned the plan.

Troiano says he realizes that a Wildwood casino won’t be looked upon favorably by Atlantic City, but he says he’s tired of being stuck in the shadow of that resort town.

“The bottom line is the state of New Jersey has given Atlantic City a gift that creates an uneven playing field,” he said. He cited the non-compete clause that haunts the Wildwoods Convention Center, which makes it impossible to book large-name acts at the center, because they would rather do AC.

He also mentioned the amount of state aid Atlantic City receives as unfair, adding that he understands that Atlantic City contributes greatly to the state’s tourism revenue.

“Wildwood also contributes to the state’s revenue and we’re looking to increase that revenue,” he said. “This is a win-win for the city of Wildwood and the state. “It’s not like we’re going to put Atlantic City out of business.”

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