To listen to some of the top politicians in New Jersey talk about it, the issue of casinos in the northern part of the state is dead.
And there are a lot of reasons to think North Jersey casinos aren’t coming any time soon, even if they would be a good idea.
North Jersey casinos were not a hit with voters
Last year, the NJ legislature sent a ballot measure to voters to approve up to two casino licenses outside of Atlantic City. The North Jersey casino referendum, however, was voted down in a landslide.
That makes it politically unlikely for a new effort to emanate from the legislature any time soon. Here’s more from Senate President Stephen Sweeney, according to NJ.com:
“I don’t see any way it comes back,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told reporters in Trenton on Monday. “It was crushed.” …
And then on the possibility of a new referendum:
“I can’t stop people from trying to do things,” Sweeney said. “I just don’t see it reasonably coming back.”
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said during the election that he supported the idea of North Jersey casinos. But he’s unlikely to expend political capital to make another referendum happen, without widespread support in the legislature.
Jeff Gural, the owner of Meadowlands Racetrack — one of the proposed sites for a new casino — told the Associated Press he didn’t want to see another referendum unless it was guaranteed to win.
So until someone mounts a substantial public relations campaign, North Jersey casinos are probably on the sideline.
Few want to rock the boat in Atlantic City
Adding North Jersey casinos into the mix would certainly cannibalize revenue from AC to some extent. (However, they’d also probably be additive to the state as a whole; more on that later.)
Thanks in large part to the advent of NJ gambling sites, overall casino revenue has been on its way up in 2017. But the bottom line is AC is still at a pretty tenuous spot in its recovery.
While things are going well, suddenly pulling the rug out from under it by adding new casinos might be a bad idea for the resort town. That makes it politically unpopular to change things up in the short term.
Here comes sports betting?
New Jersey could be on the cusp of legalizing sports betting, if it wins its case in the US Supreme Court fighting the federal ban on that type of wagering.
That would instantly help the aforementioned Meadowlands, driving new traffic to that site and Monmouth Park, another track where sports betting would be legal.
Sweeney intimated that that development lessens the need for North Jersey casinos and makes Atlantic City and the tracks a more attractive destination for visitors and gambling. Sports betting, after all, means more revenue for the state (in theory).
But still, both Pennsylvania and New York are already poised to follow New Jersey into the realm of legal sports betting with laws already on the books, should the state win its case. And that hypothetical market advantage it would enjoy disappears.
North Jersey casinos still might make sense
Atlantic City no longer has a corner on the gambling market. Where once it enjoyed the market to itself, casinos are now in nearly every nearby state: PA, NY, Delaware and Maryland.
When people have closer options in many of those states, it makes it less attractive to make the trip out to AC. Casinos in the northern part of the state would likely help New Jersey gain back some of the marketshare it is losing to other states in the region.
But that has the consequence of possibly hurting AC. Of course, the provisions of the defeated referendum would have sent some of the newly created revenue back to AC.
North Jersey casinos can both make sense for the state (and AC) and not make sense, at the same time. But right now, upsetting the status quo appears to be off the table.