It Appears North Jersey Casinos May Still Have A Few Friends In The Garden State

An NJ lawmaker reintroduced a piece of legislation that would allow North Jersey casinos. The move is a curious one, if for no other reason than enthusiasm for Atlantic City casinos is at incredible highs.

It’s called ACR32, which doesn’t mean much to anyone.

Anyone, that is, except enterprising businesspeople and developers who want to build a casino in North Jersey. ACR32 is the name of a resolution proposed by longtime gambling supporter Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, an amendment that would rewrite the rules and allow casinos in North Jersey.

ACR32 was written previous to the November 2016 referendum in which a vote to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

However, according to an article from the Press of Atlantic City, ACR32 is still alive — Caputo brought it to the Assembly Tourism, Gaming, and the Arts Committee during this legislative session.

Why the push for North Jersey casinos in 2018?

The resurfacing of ACR32 via the endorsement of such a heavyweight in Caputo is interesting at this juncture in Atlantic City.

In one sense, it makes perfect sense because this is perhaps the climax of the Atlantic City resurrection after a few years of casino closures, big debt, and brash property owners. NJ sports betting also plays an important role.

The momentum is there and certainly isn’t limited to Atlantic City, as the opening of Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino is national news.

Caputo’s move may very well be an example of the proverbial tide raising all boats, even those which have been battered by past failures.

Wrong place, wrong time

Yet the other side of the argument is that this is the wrong time to propose the expansion of the New Jersey casino industry.

Atlantic City’s profile hasn’t been this high and this visible in years. The energy and enthusiasm for the East Coast gambling mecca are incredible.

This emergence of regional pride would seem to be an overwhelming and opposing force to a legislative move to allow casinos in other parts of the state.

That Caputo would try and reintroduce casino expansion in the shadow of the Hard Rock AC’s and Ocean Resort’s massive inertia is gutsy, if not futile.

A war of attrition or an inevitable outcome?

Public opinion as recent as November 2016 indicates that citizens of the state are resolute in their rejection of expanding New Jersey’s casino industry beyond Atlantic City.

This sentiment reaches all the way back to when casinos first opened in New Jersey in 1978. Public opinion seems to be the immovable object.

However, the desire for tax revenue may eventually expand the state’s casino operations beyond the shore.

Pennsylvania is the prime example of this. Their considerable budget shortfall was a driving factor in passing a gambling expansion bill that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the state.

PA legislators were even willing to add satellite casinos to the mix, hoping that more locations would bring in more opportunities for revenue.

Put a state in a financial jam strong enough to jeopardize its financial well-being and anything is possible, even in a state as opposed to casino expansion as New Jersey.

Why The North Jersey Casino Issue Appears To Be Dead For Now

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.

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

AC has been going through a revitalization in the past couple of years. Resorts stopped closing, and two — Hard Rock AC and TEN (the former Revel) — could be reopening as soon as this summer.

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.

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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.

Meadowlands Racetrack Owner: A North Jersey Casino Will Happen, But There’s No Rush

According to the owner of the Meadowlands racetrack, there’s no need to rush on expanding casinos to North Jersey.

According to the owner of the Meadowlands racetrack, there’s no need to rush on expanding casinos to North Jersey.

That’s probably a good thing, since the voters handily shot down the idea in November via  referendum.

The latest on North Jersey casinos

Jeff Gural, who operates Meadowlands, said a proposal for Hard Rock International to build a casino on his property might take up to six years.

If New York starts opening up more casinos near the New Jersey border, that will help push the possibility of North Jersey casinos along, Gural said. New Jersey’s neighbor started opening up commercial casinos around the state this year. Those have already started creating more competition for regional gaming and tourism dollars.

More from the Associated Press:

At the East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, he guaranteed a casino will eventually be built in northern New Jersey but said waiting until New York is breathing down New Jersey’s neck is the best way to get a casino expansion referendum passed. …

 

“I can last as long as it’s going to take,” Gural said. “I’d rather wait six years until New York is either open or ready to open, and then voters will say, ‘Wait a minute.'”

Gural’s comments appear to mean another ballot measure allowing for casinos outside of Atlantic City is not likely to happen this year, or even next.

Hard Rock also not in a rush

The AP also reported that Hard Rock isn’t too worried about the future of North Jersey, via CEO

Meanwhile, Hard Rock is already getting into the New Jersey gaming market. It bought the Trump Taj Mahal in AC and will reopen it as a Hard Rock-branded property in 2018. The company is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a renovation and revamp.

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Will anyone be interested in upsetting the NJ status quo?

While the situation has been dire in recent years in Atlantic City — especially with a spate of casino resort closures in 2014 — 2017 has seen a bit of a turnaround.

The aforementioned Hard Rock investment in the city is a part of it. MGM is fully committed to Borgata as a 100-percent owner. NJ online gambling has helped turned the fortunes of gaming revenue for AC casinos, which have posted year-over-year increases for the first time in decade.

And then there was this:

More from the Press of AC here. In any event, with AC experiencing at least a brief rejuvenation, people might be skeptical of adding North Jersey casinos into the mix right now.

Still, the more prudent choice in the long-term is likely building casinos that can compete with other casino states in the region — like NY, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

So for now, North Jersey casinos are likely to stay on hold for both practical and political reasons.

Christie: ‘Dumb Move’ By Voters To Shoot Down North Jersey Casinos

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he thinks it was a bad decision by the state’s voters to defeat a referendum that would have authorized casinos outside of Atlantic City.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he thinks it was a bad decision by the state’s voters to defeat a referendum that would have authorized casinos outside of Atlantic City.

What Christie said on NJ casinos

Christie was appearing on the Boomer & Carton radio show on WFAN in New York City.

The Associated Press reported that Christie said the vote on North Jersey casinos was a “dumb move.”

Christie was referring to a ballot measure that was soundly defeated by voters in the state. They rejected the idea that the state needed two new casinos outside of AC, which would have likely been built in Jersey City and at Meadowlands Racetrack.

No other context was offered for the comment, or why he thought it was a bad idea for voters to reject it. However, the referendum would have allowed new casinos better poised to compete with casinos in Pennsylvania and New York. It also would have provided an infusion of cash for Atlantic City via a subsidy.

Christie receives little love from the voters in the state already, as his approval rating stands around 20 percent.

Christie and the backstory on North Jersey casinos

The referendum on North Jersey casinos comes with the background of financial troubles in AC. Five casinos have closed in the resort town, which is in the middle of a state takeover.

Once upon a time, Christie actually threatened to campaign against the referendum:

But the governor stressed Thursday that if Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and Prieto don’t support the takeover, “they are running the very real risk of losing my support.”

 

“And I will campaign across the state against the referendum if this is what happens,” Christie said. “And I’ll make sure it’s defeated.”

Voter sentiment, not likely to change?

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed that a referendum on North Jersey casinos may not see support in the future.

A majority of respondents said that casinos had not been good either for the state or for AC. An even bigger majority opposed the expansion of gambling outside of AC.

So while Christie and others might believe that North Jersey casinos are a good answer for the state, it seems unlikely voters will agree with him any time soon.

Proponents Of North Jersey Casinos Probably Aren’t Done Trying

Interests hoping to see New Jersey allow casinos in the northern part of the state aren’t giving up in the aftermath of a lopsided referendum.

Unlike the recent presidential election or World Series, the underdog did not come out victorious in the North Jersey casino referendum.

However, despite the lopsided vote against the ballot measure, some remain hopeful that New Jersey voters will one day come around to the idea of allowing casinos outside of Atlantic City. In fact, the defeat seems to have steeled the resolve of those who want to see the law change.

Hard Rock boss says he’ll wait it out

The proposed amendment to New Jersey’s casino law would have allowed up to two casinos to open in North Jersey. Supporters of the referendum were pretty outspoken about the fact that more casinos meant keeping more revenue in New Jersey. Right now, the argument goes, casinos in New York and Pennsylvania steal customers away.

This past week, Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen told NJ.com he’d be willing to try again to ask the state’s voters to expand casinos to North Jersey:

“CEO Jim Allen told The Associated Press on Tuesday he’s prepared to wait two years or even much longer to build the casino his Florida-based company wants to add to the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, where the NFL’s Jets and Giants play home games.”

New licenses stand to benefit

His motivation for keeping the hope alive is understandable. Opening a North Jersey casino stands to bring Allen and others — Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural comes to mind — huge revenue opportunities.

And with Atlantic City fumbling through its budget, leading to a state takeover of its finances, they stand to swipe some business from the teetering pillar of New Jersey gambling.

Experts have guessed that Atlantic City can sustain six to eight casinos, which means the city currently is at capacity.

The citizens’ perspective: A letter to the editor

Public distaste for the casino referendum was pretty evident; most coverage focused on the naysayers. However, supporters have spoken up in the wake of a vote that ended up being a blowout.

One such voice made its way into the New Jersey Herald’s opinion section. The author of a letter pointed out that it takes North Jersey residents three hours and $15 in tolls to get to Atlantic City. He also noted that neighboring states feature top-notch casinos and continue to build more.

His perspective brings up the point that nobody seems to be talking about. New Jersey voters have protected Atlantic City as if it was an untouchable shrine to gambling.

While that’s a noble idea, it’s hard to deny the city is becoming a dangerously unstable artifact of what was once a thriving mecca for gamblers.

North Jersey Casino Measure Is Destroyed By Voters In Tuesday Referendum

The North Jersey casino referendum was beaten badly on Tuesday, with grim prospects for the issue resurfacing in the future in NJ.

The saga surrounding the New Jersey referendum to expand casinos beyond Atlantic City to North Jersey came to a close as the “yes” and “no” votes were counted on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

According to NJ.com, the final tally wasn’t close:

The ballot question appears on pace to fail by more than 1.5 million votes, according to projections by the Associated Press — which would make it the largest margin of defeat for any referendum the state has ever seen.

With 93 precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, the casino question was failing nearly 78 percent to 22 percent.

Over the past year, the referendum has seen a steady move toward a resolute “No.” A Monmouth University Polling Institute poll taken this spring indicated a dead heat, a sign that perhaps things had changed in a state where voters have been decidedly pro-Atlantic City since casinos were first approved there in 1974. Gov. Chris Christie also said he’d support the referendum.

However, the closer the vote drew, the further the reality of North Jersey casinos became, to the point that the referendum’s result was more a question of how badly it would fail rather than if it would succeed.

Voting day, aftermath spurs plenty of opinions

As the vote drew closer, opinions of the referendum became as clear as they were numerous. The Street reduced the vote to a matter of money: “If you follow the money, the … scheduled referendum vote on whether to expand legal gambling to Northern New Jersey will likely be defeated.”

Pro and con, North Jersey casinos takes

The forces behind the referendum — namely interests that would have procured a gaming license should the measure have passed — weren’t ready to throw in the towel in the future.

From the Press of AC:

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by tonight’s result,” a statement from Our Turn NJ, a nonprofit campaign favoring the expansion of casino gaming, said. “We have seen for some time now that the people of New Jersey were unhappy with the lack of details on this issue.

“We do not view the failure to pass Question #1 as a rejection of gaming expansion but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them.”

Meanwhile, the opposition was understandably crowing after victory:

“We are glad to see the overwhelming support across New Jersey opposing casino expansion. We attribute our success to a broad coalition of community leaders, unions, small businesses and residents who are convinced that North Jersey casinos would be a detriment to the entire state,” said Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet.

Follow the money

According to Street reporter Tony Owusu, groups fighting the referendum paid $14.4 million to advertise and campaign against North Jersey casinos, while supporters of the referendum paid $8.6 million on behalf of their cause, a more than 70% difference.

The opposition group’s spending jolted upward in the past two weeks — they threw down $3.1 million, while supporters spent $100,000.

Problem gamblers used as deterrent

The Asbury Park Press published a story highlighting the narrative of a problem gambler who landed in prison for stealing from his employer to feed his gambling habit. The subject said he isn’t “crusading against casinos”, but wants there to be more public discourse of the human lives gobbled up by gambling’s seemingly voracious appetite.

The article went on to talk about the hidden thousands who struggle with problem gambling. While not quite a North Jersey town, Asbury Park’s paper certainly took a decisive South Jersey stance on the referendum.

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Supporters say more casinos combat out-of-state competitors

While the stories of problem gamblers may tug at the heart strings, supporters of the referendum point out that gamblers — problem and non-problem — are already leaving the state for casinos in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

So, keeping casinos in Atlantic City, they say, won’t curb problem gambling, it will just send that problem west or north, taking precious tax revenues with them to cities already bent on wooing gamblers away from New Jersey.

Furthermore, said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jim Kirkos in an article from The Daily Progress, new casinos in North Jersey means jobs for the region and a boosted state economy.