Official cars used by the state agency that regulates casinos were improperly used most of the time by workers to commute to and from work, a state audit found earlier this year, and the agency has since undertaken new training for all its employees and continuing a review of its vehicles.
The state auditor examined the Division of Gaming Enforcement and Casino Control Commission in an audit submitted to Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic leadership of the Legislature in March.
The auditor's report found that 77 percent of the usage of the division's fleet of 109 cars was for commuting purposes and that a nearly 64,000 square-foot building mostly occupied by the commission was underused.
The auditor's report and the agencies' replies come as Atlantic City struggles economically: four of its 12 casinos closed in 2014, property values have gone down in recent years hurting tax collections and the Legislature and Christie are weighing measures to bolster the flagging resort town.
The developments also come as lawmakers are discussing expanding gambling to other parts of New Jersey as competition from neighboring states increases.
Among the findings in the report were that all of the entries indicating the purpose of a trip were either vague or left blank; 22 entries indicating business use were recorded on days when a worker had charged a full day of leave; and logs appeared not to be completed properly at the time of use but instead at the end of the month.
Guidelines for state vehicles indicate workers may commute to and from work when required by state assignment but that the primary use of the vehicle is not commuting.
The audit also found the division could save nearly $1 million by reducing the size of the fleet by 50 cars, and identified an additional $300,000 in potential fuel and maintenance cost savings.
Auditors also said the commission _ which has seen its workforce fall by 26 percent since 2012 _ could save nearly $200,000 by using its building space more efficiently.
At the time of the report's release earlier this year, Division Director David Rebuck and Commissioner Matthew Levinson did not dispute the findings. Rebuck and Levinson wrote in March the division recognized the need to reduce the number of cars and had composed a handbook for workers; and the agencies were discussing ways to better use office space located at Tennessee Avenue and the boardwalk.
Now, four months later, the division has completed new training of all its workers, with a focus on the recording of business and commuting mileage, division spokeswoman Kerry Langan said in a statement. Langan said the division ``will continue to adjust'' the number of cars it operates, but declined to say whether any had been eliminated from the fleet.
Commission spokesman Dan Heneghan said the agency as recently as last week met with Treasury officials on how to better use the space and since the audit, several other state agencies have moved into some of the space at the beachfront property. Those include the Division of Civil Rights, the Division of Criminal Justice, the Department of Community Affairs, and the Atlantic City Task Force.
The audit reviewed the agencies from July 2012 through November 2014 and was undertaken as part of a regular, rotating review of state agencies, assistant state auditor John Termyna said. Termyna said the auditor will review the agencies' progress in December and report back to lawmakers in March.
The two agencies, which together regulate the state's gambling industry, are funded from the state's casino control fund, which is projected in fiscal year 2016 to have $55 million available.
Cash in the fund comes from fees paid by the casinos, not directly from taxpayers.
Even so, some lawmakers were surprised to hear the auditor's findings and indicated they might take action. State Sen. Bob Gordon, who chairs the legislative oversight panel said he is interested in implementing a new GPS tracking system for state vehicles.
Gordon indicated the auditor's findings suggest the state was paying for certain workers' trips to work.
“I'd like somebody to subsidize my commute,'' he said.
The agencies are not required to follow the auditor's recommendations, but Termyna said the reports frequently result in legislative hearings in which lawmakers can ``hold an agency's foot to the fire.''
Lawmakers and the auditor's office acknowledge the report went unnoticed at the time of its release. That's mostly a function of how the auditor operates, Termyna said.
“We try not to be splashy,'' he said. ``To some degree that's how we get change.''