After the thrashing Atlantic City has taken over the past decade since the first casinos opened in Pennsylvania, expanding out-of-state competition, especially in New York, has reopened the discussion to permit casinos elsewhere in New Jersey. It would require an amendment to constitution imposed in 1976 that confines legal casinos to Atlantic City.
The issue of whether to permit casinos beyond Atlantic City has gained momentum due to recent proposals by Hard Rock International and Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment to build a casino in the Meadowlands. Experts suggest the close proximity to New York could be prime real estate to develop one of the most profitable casinos in the country and proponents believe a casino could generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue.
Key state lawmakers say they envision a new upstate casino bringing the gaming spotlight back to New Jersey, while tax revenue can be used to help sustain the struggling horse racing industry at the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway. Supporters propose that building a casino would create thousands of permanent and part-time jobs, as well as help those out of work because of the closure of four Atlantic City casinos last year.
Governor Christie, a Republican, said that allowing a casino to be built in North Jersey would be “the right thing to do” as long as Atlantic City casinos receive tax aid as part of the project. The governor has advocated bringing gaming back on track since assuming office in 2010. He even agreed to reimburse Revel with $261m in sales and corporate taxes to resume work on the $2.4bn casino resort, which ultimately couldn’t save the property.
For casinos to be built outside Atlantic City would require the question to be placed on a statewide referendum. For a public question to appear on the November ballot, the Legislature must act quickly and conduct votes by early August. Industry executives are confident a referendum could be held this November, as long as the bill authorising it is adopted by the state Legislature by the end of June and the August deadline isn’t surpassed.
“I have no problem with that question going on the ballot right away because competition is only going to grow, in New York in particular,” remarked Christie on his ‘Ask the Governor’ radio show in New Jersey last month. “I certainly would be supportive of getting this question done as quickly as we can, so we could move to expand it, if that’s the will of the people.”
In the past Christie had said that casinos wouldn’t be permitted in alternative locations, as the competition would hurt Atlantic City. But after trying a bout of measures and loosening existing regulations to make operating conditions easier for casinos, Christie is ready to expand casinos elsewhere in the state. The governor gave Atlantic City five years to turn itself around before considering the constitutional change, a period that ends next February.
“If we could plant our flag firmly in the ground, particularly in the northern part of the state, I think that would make the project even more successful,” the governor said. “The people would have the right to speak out and we’d know are we going to expand gaming to the northern part of the state or aren’t we and then its about sitting down with the Legislature and negotiating terms to make sure Atlantic City was helped in the process.”
An array of proposals could be submitted by prospective developers to incite voters ahead of a referendum. Hard Rock and Meadowlands Racing have said their proposed development at Meadowlands racetrack is expected to generate $400m in tax revenue and create 10,000 jobs. Meadowlands Racing Chairman Jeff Gural previously said the casino would pay 55pc tax on winnings, which compares to the 8pc paid by casinos in Atlantic City.
Christie added that he has not yet seen a proposal for the project but favours Meadowlands or Jersey City as the most likely locations because they could attract visitors from New York while stopping New Jersey residents from going outside the state to gamble. “I certainly wouldn’t take any favourites without seeing all of the plans in detail,” said Christie. “And that’s what would be our guidepost in terms of how we would decide where it would go.”