State lawmakers gave final approval on Monday to a bill that would punish billionaire investor Carl Icahn for closing Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino.
The state Assembly voted 60-17 to approve a bill that would impose a five-year license suspension for anyone shutting down a casino after January 2016. That means it would apply only to Icahn at this point, even though four other casinos have closed since 2014.
The measure now goes to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who hasn't said if he favors or opposes it. The state Senate gave it final approval in October.
Union president Bob McDevitt, of Local 54 of Unite-HERE, which went on strike against the Taj Mahal in July, said the bill "sends a strong signal that the referendum in 1976 that authorized casino gaming contemplated good jobs with benefits." The union was unable to reach a new contract with Icahn to restore union members' health insurance and pension benefits that the casino's previous owner had eliminated in bankruptcy court.
"The Legislature is doing a good job in trying to support that social compact," McDevitt said.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump, a New York real estate mogul, built the casino in 1990 but cut most ties with Atlantic City in 2009.
Icahn acquired the casino from bankruptcy court in March. He did not respond to requests for comment Friday and Monday, but he said in October that the bill is unconstitutional, would discourage investment in Atlantic City and would make it virtually impossible to reopen the casino should he decide to do so in the future.
Icahn decided in August to shut the casino down Oct. 10, eliminating nearly 3,000 jobs.
But McDevitt and many former workers believe Icahn plans to try to reopen the casino in the spring with or without a union contract.
There is no deadline for the owner of a shuttered casino to surrender its casino license. Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney has said he introduced the bill to prevent owners from closing casinos and then "sitting on" the licenses for years.
Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli said the bill aims to prevent casino owners from "manipulating the licensing system."
"At the end of the day, this is designed to be a carrot, not a stick, by encouraging casino owners to remain open, rather than allowing them (to) hold onto their license while they shut down and leave thousands of working-class folks without a job," he said.
His bill would return the casino license to such an owner if he or she reaches a deal with casino labor unions to reopen the casino.
It would not apply to the Tropicana, another Icahn-owned casino that has a contract with Local 54. Nor would it apply to the four casinos that shut down in 2014: The Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza.