On February 8, a bill that would expand casinos to northern New Jersey passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a 5-2 vote. Late last month the bill passed a senate committee by a 9-2 vote. The final version of the much-debated bill is a blend between a bill introduced in the Senate and a similar bill submitted by the Assembly.
The Senate and the Assembly were unable to agree on the details of the bill in 2015, which caused Governor Chris Christie to intervene in January 2016. In a meeting with the sponsors of each version of the bill, Christie mediated a compromise. The final version of the expansion bill is based largely on the text written by the Senate but includes clauses provided by the Assembly.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto spoke optimistically about the impact he believes the bill will have in a press release from the Assembly Democrats:
“I’ve long said North Jersey gaming was a matter of when, not if, and with this proposal, voters will get the chance to strengthen our state’s financial future.
A modernized, world-class gaming industry will compete with other states and provide a hefty infusion of money for programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents. This bill does the right thing for both Atlantic City and our senior and disabled residents. This is something everyone can support.”
A video press release featuring excerpts from the expansion bill’s hearing was made public by the assembly on Monday:
Who might build the new casinos?
The legislature has yet to endorse a particular casino project for the northern expansion, but some developers have already begun to show interest. One real estate developer whose name is frequently brought up is Paul Fireman, the Massachusetts venture capitalist best known for Reebok. He is interested in building a $4 billion casino and resort next to Liberty State Park. Hard Rock International is also investigating building a casino at the Meadowlands.
Other corporations that could bid include Las Vegas Sands and Resorts World, though neither has made official announcements. MGM International and Boyd Gaming, owners of the Borgata, are no doubt also investigating whether or not to get involved.
How will this impact AC Casinos?
A 20-day waiting period must take place before the bill heads back to both houses for a final vote. The bill will have to pass both houses with a three-fifths majority before it can appear on the November 2016 ballot. Even though the bill must go through both houses again, it has immense statewide support and is likely to pass.
Atlantic City is suffering, and NJ would like to recoup losses from the large quantity of casino closures within the city.
Despite the fact that a portion of revenues from the new casinos will go to Atlantic City, the impact of a North Jersey mega resort could still be crushing for the city’s economy. A large number of Atlantic City tourists from neighboring states like New York are unlikely to take the trip to AC if a brand new casino sprouts up closer to home.
Although provisions to lighten the damage to the seaside town are part of the bill which is likely to pass, AC casinos are rightfully fearful of the new competition and will have to act fast if they want to stand a chance to compete.