Since late last year, lawmakers have been at war over a bill that would expand casinos to northern New Jersey. The senate got behind a bill which was proposed by Senator Steve Sweeney and would have subsidized Atlantic City significantly. A second bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, found support in the assembly and favored fresh blood in the New Jersey casino industry.
Lawmakers had until early January to come to an agreement and vote on a bill, but they failed to make that happen.
On January 11, Governor Chris Christie announced that he mediated between both sides and helped them reach an agreement. The final version of the bill is the senate’s proposal, but with certain added amendments.
The bill now states that two New Jersey casino licenses will be issued in northern New Jersey. Existing Atlantic City casinos have first priority to bid on the new facilities. If a current casino wishes to bid, it has six months and must plan on investing at least $1 billion into the new casino property.
If no current casino operator wishes to bid, the licenses will be opened up to other U.S casino operators.
Opposition to the NJ casino expansion still exists
Though an agreement has been reached between bill sponsors, plenty of politicians are still unhappy with the proposal. Many believe the bill dooms Atlantic City and lacks clarity. Concerns about the bill include how much money will go to Atlantic City relief and what the bill will do to counteract job losses in the seaside town.
State Senator Jim Whelan spoke to the Press of Atlantic City about the negative impact the bill could have:
“It is foolish to think that gaming in North Jersey would do anything but cannibalize an already-saturated market in the same way that casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland have cannibalized ours.”
If the legislature had agreed on a plan earlier, the amendment would have only required a simple majority of each house in order to make the 2016 ballot. Due to their inability to get that done until after the deadline, a three-fifths majority is now needed. That should be easy to do in the senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill 33-6, but may prove itself difficult in the house.
Steve Wynn among the most likely candidates to invest
In the 1980s, casino casino industry magnate Steve Wynn opened the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. Though the Golden Nugget was immensely successful, Wynn opted to sell it in 1987. Wynn publicly stated his reasons for the sale as government corruption and poor city management.
With the official bill for the northern casino expansion mostly agreed upon, Wynn has set his sights back on New Jersey. Assemblyman Ralph Caputo made a statement to NJ.com about the effect that Steve Wynn could have on New Jersey, dismissing those who believe he abandoned the city:
“Why would we exclude a person like Steve Wynn? I’d be so disappointed if we put a resolution through that excluded people of his caliber.”
The majority of Atlantic City casinos will likely be unable to commit the $1 billion needed to develop a North Jersey casino, but considering they have first right of refusal it seems likely that outside investors like Wynn may try and strike a deal to get involved.