As North Jersey Casino Referendum Looms, Only Question Is How Badly It Will Fail

[toc]The North Jersey casino referendum has been the signature issue in the state this election cycle, outside of the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

A record amount of money has been spent on sides pushing for “no” and “yes” votes — the latter hasn’t quite given up — on the referendum that would authorize up to two casinos outside of Atlantic City.

But as the votes come in for Tuesday’s ballot measure in New Jersey, the issue already seems to be decided — at least if the lopsided polling in recent months is to be believed.

So where it did it all go wrong for the possibility of North Jersey casinos?

Losing control of the narrative

It’s clear that the interests behind a “no” vote — who don’t want to see casinos outside of AC — told a more convincing tale to the public.

Those interests — both from AC/South Jersey and representing New York casinos — basically told voters that they shouldn’t trust their lawmakers, and that they were in favor of the casino expansion. Prospective voters seemed to gobble up this narrative, turning what once appeared to be a dead heat into a likely bludgeoning when voting takes place.

Not everyone who was tacitly in favor of North Jersey casinos has been on the same page, including the state’s racetracks. For instance, Monmouth Park just came on board (Meadowlands would be one of the likely gaming license recipients) — far too late to really make any difference at the actual polls. The fact that a deal now seems almost meaningless.

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“Today’s agreement is a great one for everyone involved with New Jersey horse racing,” said Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin.  “We urge everyone who works in horse racing, who is a fan of racing, who works on a farm or is anyway directly or indirectly related to this great industry to vote yes on Tuesday.  A yes vote secures a bright future for Monmouth Park, New Jersey’s equine industry, and the vast open spaces and green acres that it supports.”

The opposition appears to have been far more organized and had a better message than proponents.

More money spent on ‘no’ vote

So far, more than $24 million has been spent on the ballot measure, according to election filings.

More than $14 million of that came from the opposition. Some of the disparity comes from the fact that the “yes” side, represented by “Our Turn NJ,” basically gave up on major ad buys as its polling numbers dwindled.

Still, the willingness of the opposition to spend early and often was likely a factor in the end.

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The pros and cons of more casinos

What would the impact of North Jersey casinos be? Would it hurt Atlantic City casinos, or would it help New Jersey be competitive with casinos in the region, including ones close to the border in New York and Pennsylvania?

The jury is out on which side is right. But much like the ‘narrative’ flow above, it’s clear more people believed that more casinos would not be good for the state.

At least one study came to the conclusion that several more AC casinos would have to close if North Jersey casinos were authorized. That would add to the tally of five resort casinos that have closed in recent years, with the recent shuttering of Trump Taj Mahal.

An op-ed at concurred with the idea that new casinos would hurt AC:

The Atlantic City gaming market has stabilized, and profits at the current casinos are starting to grow. Though 72 miles may seem to be a long distance, the North Jersey casinos’ market areas would overlap Atlantic City’s, creating significant new competition that would unwind those gains.

At the same time, it’s clear AC has lost some of its clientele to Philadelphia- and NYC-area casinos, as well as Sands Bethlehem in eastern PA. Continuing to give those markets away by refusing to authorize North Jersey casinos may be a short-sighted decision, even if it helps AC in the short term.

But who is right doesn’t matter; the numbers that have gained more traction were obviously more persuasive on the “no” North Jersey casinos side of the ledger.

In general, people aren’t in favor of more casinos

A recent poll suggested that Americans in general — if not New Jersey residents in specific — are not excited about the prospects of continued unabated expansion of land-based casinos in the country.

From Legal Sports Report:

The poll showed 68 percent say the US has enough casinos; just 11 percent want more.

“With an overwhelming number who believe there are enough casinos, we may have reached a saturation point for casino expansion in the United States,” Jenkins said.

It’s in that environment that the North Jersey referendum came up, meaning it may have been doomed to fail no matter what.

About the Author

Dustin Gouker

Aside from his role as editor at, Dustin Gouker writes extensively about the legal online gaming and US online poker industries, having played poker recreationally for his entire adult life. He has also covered sports for The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner, among others.