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Grapevine

GRAPEVINE: Don't expect budget leaks

Gov. Chris Christie is set to deliver his budget address this week, but with more scrutiny on his office than ever before, don't be surprised if little is leaked beforehand.

In the past, as one source notes, it was common to have the governor's office give a couple previews of what's in store for the annual budget address. But with the emergence of Bridgegate, multiple controversies regarding Sandy aid and ethical questions surrounding key Christie confidants, Trenton might be a little tight-lipped this time around.

But that doesn't mean anyone should expect anything earth-shattering from Christie's speech. Though relatively more descriptive than the annual State of the State address, the unveiling of the budget gives the governor his chance to simply "lay out what the current conditions (are), what needs to be addressed."

During his State of the State, Christie alluded to further property tax reform, which members of the state's business community applauded at the time.

But he's also going to have to find a way to address what's shaping up to be a $331 million revenue shortfall from his administration's fiscal year projection.

Showboat could get docked

With the closing of the Atlantic Club becoming a reality last month, there's fresh chatter about what could be the next casino to shut its doors in Atlantic City — Showboat.

It's just a rumor for now, one insider said, but there's no denying the resort town is still overcrowded as a gaming market. And the worst winter in years is certainly not helping any of the 11 properties that remain.

Showboat, the New Orleans-themed casino, saw its gaming revenue slip 14 percent to $193 million in 2013. The Caesars-owned property also had a 26 percent drop in its overall profit through September, the most recent data available for last year.

It's certainly not the worst-performing casino in Atlantic City, though it is one of four operated by Caesars. The Las Vegas-based gaming giant was rumored last month to be weighing a bid for Revel.

As for the Atlantic Club, which closed Jan. 12, a source said there is "genuine interest" from outside investors in acquiring and reopening the site as a nongaming property. The former Atlantic City Hilton was the first New Jersey casino to close in seven years.

Christie's town hall circuit

The governor seemingly likes the town hall format so much that he's held 110 of them.

For the first time in a long time, Christie held another last week, in Republican-friendly Middletown, to talk Sandy-related issues. He had held off from town halls since last June due to criticism that the platform gave him an unfair advantage during campaign season.

And perhaps to the surprise of many members of the national media in attendance last Thursday, the governor made it through more than an hour of the public forum with not one single question about the George Washington Bridge, Dawn Zimmer or David Samson.

Not one.

One source says it could be a sign that residents are "starting to get a little fatigued" by coverage of the scandal and that it's just the media that's still interested. That could feed nicely into a narrative for Christie supporters.

Regardless, the insider says that, given his skill set as a communicator in a format he has been known to shine in, it's only logical that he look to hold more.

"I think it makes sense for him to go back to what he's done before," the source said.

The positive public exposure could be especially helpful since Christie has not taken questions from the media in more than a month.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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