If former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman gets his wish, New Jersey will soon have one of the most expensive and cutting edge casinos in the world, just not in Atlantic City.
Fireman’s plan is to bring the $4.6 billion project (which includes the world’s largest Ferris wheel, a 100,000 seat motor speedway, 95-story skyscrapers, and even on-site residences) to Jersey City, overlooking New York Harbor.
As ambitious as the project sounds, Fireman has a track record that says he might be the person to make it happen. Fireman oversaw the sale of Reebok to Adidas for $3.6 billion in 2006 (where he collected a nice $600 million payday) and promptly moved on to his next project – the construction of a $250 million golf course on the site of a former toxic waste dump in New Jersey.
The course, Liberty National, is now one of the nicest in the country and hosts PGA events.
If it were to come to fruition, Fireman’s proposed casino wonderland would likely be in addition to the long-proposed expansion at Meadowlands Racetrack.
However, as State Senator Raymond Lesniak indicated in comments to NJ.com, “They really would have two separate attractions. The Meadowlands would be more of an average day player, whereas this would attract the high rollers from around the world.”
Both projects are still in the early stages of planning, as Fireman ‘s vision, and casino expansion beyond AC in general, hinges on New Jersey politicians (and voters) expanding gambling in the state and ending Atlantic City’s 40-year monopoly on gambling in New Jersey.
This is something that can only be accomplished by New Jersey residents voting to amend the state constitution.
Casino closures forcing NJ’s hand
The idea of expanding gambling beyond Atlantic City is nothing new, but the idea has picked up quite a bit of momentum in the past year due to the spate of casino closures in Atlantic City, and of course the continued decline in gaming revenue — revenue has dropped every year since peaking at $5.1 billion in 2006, pulling in just $2.8 billion in 2013.
The decline, partly spurred on by competition in neighboring states (New Jersey and Atlantic City clinging to their decades old model can also shoulder some of the blame) has led politicians to look at other options beyond Atlantic City.
In 2011 Governor Chris Christie basically gave Atlantic City casinos five years to get their house in order, or expanded gaming would become an option.
Even though that deadline is approaching, Christie and other longtime AC-only politicians like Senate President Stephen Sweeney have already talked about pulling the plug so to speak, and letting New Jersey voters cast their ballot on expanding land-based gaming beyond Atlantic City via a constitutional amendment.
Not only will politicians have to push for it, but it’s not clear if voters will approve it.
While some feel more casinos, in other parts of New Jersey, will hasten Atlantic City’s decline, others see it as a way to prop up Atlantic City and at the same time keep New Jersey residents living hours away from Atlantic City from visiting casinos in other states that are both closer and more modern.
Some of the revenue going to the state from the new casino(s) would likely be diverted back to Atlantic City, and could help revitalize the city, and help change its reputation as a place you visit where all you can do is gamble to a place you can visit that has gambling options.