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

The North Jersey casino referendum has been the signature issue in the state this election cycle, outside of the presidential race.

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.

More from North Jersey.com:

“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 Philly.com 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.

Dying North Jersey Casino Effort Still Making Last-Ditch Push

The effort behind a “yes” vote on the North Jersey casino referendum is not quite willing to give yet.

The effort behind a “yes” vote on the North Jersey casino referendum is not quite willing to give up yet.

Casinos signs for up, then down

NJ.com is reporting that signs supporting ballot question No. 1 — which would allow the addition of up to two casinos outside of Atlantic City — are popping up around Jersey City.

The signs read: “On Nov. 8th vote yes on question #1. Vote yes for jobs.”

But they are coming down pretty quickly:

The Jersey City Department of Public Works has taken down roughly 1,500 campaigns signs promoting Board of Education candidates and casino expansion, spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said.

 

A city ordinance prohibits any form of advertisement from being displayed on public property, which includes utility poles and light posts.

Jersey City is one of the likely jurisdictions where a casino would be placed, should the referendum pass.

Our Turn NJ not giving up

The signage push indicates someone is still trying to prop up a “yes” vote, which has consistently lost ground in polling of late, to the point it appears there is little chance of victory.

That push appears to be coming from Our Turn NJ, whose logo appears on the signs.

That’s despite the fact that the group stopped buying commercials some time ago.

Rally against casinos

At the same time, supporters of a “no” vote aren’t resting on their laurels, despite a big lead according to polling data.

More than a thousand people turned out for a recent rally against the referendum. While New York casinos fearing more regional competition have largely bankrolled opposition, Atlantic City has (not shockingly) also been a vocal opponent of casino expansion in the state.

More from the rally at Northjersey.com:

The sentiments were echoed by each of the speakers as they stepped to the microphone including Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.

 

“We can disagree on the Cubs and the Indians, we can disagree on Donald and Hillary, but what we can agree on is voting down Question 1 on the November 8 ballot.”

Atlantic City is also in the middle of trying to avoid a state takeover because of its ongoing financial problems.

The ballot measure has already set records for spending in the state, with the two sides dedicating more than $20 million to marketing efforts.

‘Greedy Pigs’: Meadowlands Boss Goes Off On Atlantic City Casino Owners

Meadowlands boss Jeff Gural had some choice words for Atlantic City casino owners during a meeting with the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.

Deny a man his casino, and he’s liable to strike back.

Amid increasing belief that New Jersey voters will strike down the November referendum that would allow up to two casinos in North Jersey, supporters of the ballot measure are starting to raise their voices. Earlier this month, Meadowlands boss Jeff Gural blasted Atlantic City casino owners during a morning breakfast with the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.

The Hudson County View taped the meeting and was able to catch many of Gural’s choice words for his casino-owning foes to the south.

Gural says New Jersey is lagging behind other states

Gural talked about competing states’ approach to casino gambling: They allow more of it so they don’t have to raise taxes on individuals or other businesses.

“What’s happened in these other states … is they’ve all gone out and allowed casino gambling and … they’ve done it to raise revenue so they don’t have to raise taxes,” he said. “Only New Jersey has done the complete opposite. They’ve basically made it clear their objective is to make casino owners as wealthy as possible and screw the taxpayers.”

Gural went on to launch a polemic against Caesers, saying the casino giant took revenue from its Atlantic City presence and built a casino just 70 miles away in Pennsylvania.

“The casino industry in Atlantic City basically takes the money that they make in Atlantic City and build casinos to compete with Atlantic City,” Gural told the audience. “And the best example of that is Harrah’s Chester.”

He went on to refer to Atlantic City’s eight casino owners as “greedy pigs” and “stupid,” methodically moving through his reasoning with measured emotion.

Bernardsville paper also argues money will go out of state

The same week that Gural spoke with the Bayonne Chamber, the Bernardsville News published an op-ed in favor of the referendum, using much of the same logic Gural communicated.

The main thrust of that newspaper’s argument was that the anti-casino campaigns are being funded, in large part, by groups in New York, Pennsylvania and abroad who, the paper wrote, “are afraid that North Jersey gamblers will go to the Meadowlands instead of driving to their Pennsylvania slot halls or New York gambling sites.”

If the referendum doesn’t pass, New Jersey residents will continue to head to New York and Pennsylvania, supporters argue, and the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into those states will never see New Jersey’s budget.

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Polls not looking good for North Jersey casinos

Despite the burst of support for the November referendum, polls continue to show that residents are not in favor of the legislation.

A recent survey from Fairleigh Dickinson’s PublicMind research center revealed that 70 percent of respondents said they are opposed to casinos outside of Atlantic City, while only 24 percent said they were in favor of them.

Those numbers are particularly startling when compared to a June survey that said 58 percent of respondents were opposed to the referendum.

Poll: Outlook Remains Bleak For North Jersey Casinos As Election Day Nears

A new poll produced more bad news for the possibility of casinos coming to northern New Jersey.

A new poll produced more bad news for the possibility of casinos coming to North Jersey.

The latest poll on North Jersey casinos

New Jersey voters will have the opportunity to allow for the addition of up to two casinos outside of Atlantic City via a ballot measure next month.

That referendum continues to look like it has little chance of gaining voters’ approval based on the latest polling numbers from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

Nearly three in four voters opposed the authorization of North Jersey casinos, the poll found. Only 24 percent of registered voters surveyed supported a North Jersey expansion, while 70 percent planned to vote against the referendum.

That’s sizable movement from a poll from FDU conducted in June. Then, 35 percent of respondents were in favor of casinos, and 58 percent said they were opposed.

A poll released earlier in October found similar opposition to the ballot measure.

Why does no one want North Jersey casinos?

At one point this year, a poll found the two sides of the measure to be in a dead heat.

Support for the issue, however, has dissipated over the summer and fall. FDU’s PublicMind indicated that is not a surprising result.

“This is an issue we’ve been polling on for years, and there has never been broad and deep support for allowing casinos to expand beyond Atlantic City. It’s no surprise, then, that backers of the amendment are having a hard time selling the idea to voters,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of PublicMind.

Drilling into the data behind the poll, respondents expressed a belief that the state already has enough casinos (36 percent) and that North Jersey casinos would harm Atlantic City (26 percent). More from Jenkins:

“When over a third of registered voters believe their casino fix is amply satisfied by what’s already here, and worry that more will do to other communities what casinos did to Atlantic City, the ‘more is better’ argument is a tough sell.”

The ‘no’ campaign gained traction

Part of the reason the referendum seems destined to fail is the money being spent by interests opposing it.

More than $20 million has been spent on both sides of the issue, but more money was deployed by a group that is backed by New York casinos. Those gaming facilities don’t want to see more casinos built closer to them and create greater regional competition.

More from the poll release:

“The aggressive media campaign against additional casinos in the northern part of the state most likely influenced increased opposition to the amendment,” said Donald Hoover, former casino executive and senior lecturer at the Fairleigh Dickinson University International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Opposition also comes from southern New Jersey, as interests in and around AC believe new casinos will hurt the region. That’s despite the fact that money generated from North Jersey casinos would help the struggling resort town, according to the provisions of the referendum.

To prove that no one is taking the result of the measure for granted, the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition is holding a rally on the Boardwalk on Thursday.

Spending On North Jersey Casinos Referendum Breaks Records, Raises Eyebrows

The November referendum on whether to allow new casinos in North Jersey is generating a record amount of spending.

The November referendum on whether to allow new casinos in North Jersey is generating a record amount of spending.

The figures for the North Jersey casino vote

Spending by interest groups on the ballot measure — which would allow the state to issue two gaming licenses outside of Atlantic City — has eclipsed $20 million already, according to NJ.com.

More from NJ.com:

The previous high was, fittingly, the 1976 question to allow casinos in Atlantic City, which cost $1.4 million at the time. That’s $5.6 million today when adjusted for inflation, ELEC said.

 

“We expected big spending on this issue, and the first wave disclosure reports bear that out,” said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “I still wouldn’t be surprised if final spending approaches $40 million.”

Money appears to be helping push against new casinos

So far, the money being spent by interests against the casinos appears to be having a great effect. Polls show that voters will overwhelmingly support a “no” vote on the new casinos.

More than $11 million has been spent on efforts against the measure.

The poor polling numbers for a “yes” vote come despite more than $8 million being spent by a group called Our Turn NJ in support of the referendum.

Where’s the money coming from?

While interests in AC have been pushing against the possibility of casinos outside of the city’s borders, they aren’t the only ones.

In fact, it came to light that interests outside of the state are largely bankrolling the campaign against North Jersey casinos. The company behind Resorts World Casino in New York City has been the main benefactor of a group called “Trenton’s Bad Bet,” which has produced and aired commercials against the ballot measure.

More from NorthJersey.com’s John Brennan:

More than $6 million of the coalition’s $11.6 million — a record for any referendum, according to state officials — has been provided by Malaysian-based Genting New York, which operates the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct in Queens.

The operators of the Montreign casino in the Catskills that is under construction and Resorts Atlantic City — the first legal gambling locale to open in Atlantic City, in 1978 — each are linked to about $2 million in spending. The remaining $1.5 million came from Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway.

New York casinos obviously have an interest in seeing the New Jersey casino industry remain in AC, and not creating closer regional competition.

Proponents of a “yes” vote put the opposition on blast for skipping out on a debate on the issue scheduled for Monday. Jeff Gural, operator of Meadowlands Racetrack — one of the likely recipients of a new NJ license — called out the NY casinos getting involved in New Jersey politics.

North Jersey Casino Referendum Appears All But Dead After Latest Poll

The latest poll about a November referendum that could authorize casinos in northern New Jersey makes it appear the effort is on life support for 2016.

The latest poll about a November referendum that could authorize casinos in northern New Jersey makes it appear the effort is on life support for 2016.

The new poll on North Jersey casinos

Stockton University released a poll this past week about the ballot measure on North Jersey casinos. The referendum would amend the state constitution, allowing licenses for two new casinos more than 72 miles from Atlantic City.

That poll showed that two out of every three respondents do not support the expansion of gambling New Jersey. The poll showed that 68 percent oppose the amendment, while 27 percent support casino expansion.

In South Jersey, the gap was even larger: 74 percent in the eight southernmost counties oppose the referendum.

“These results should provide some comfort to residents of the Atlantic City region, which has seen the loss of 5,400 casino industry jobs since the start of 2014,” said Sharon Schulman, executive director of Stockton U.’s Hughes Center. “Clearly the voters – especially those in South Jersey – do not want to see Atlantic City casino competition within the state.”

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Two polls, similar data

A poll from September conducted by Rutgers came to the same conclusion — albeit by a narrower margin — that the referendum was not terribly popular with voters. Just 35 percent approved of allowing North Jersey casinos, while 58 percent disapproved.

Knowing the specific locations of the North Jersey casinos had little effect on support, even in the newer poll:

Possible casino locations being discussed, if the amendment were to pass, include Jersey City and the Meadowlands. More than half (53 percent) say knowing those specific locations would have no impact on their vote. Only 5 percent of opponents would support the amendment because of the locations, and 8 percent of supporters would switch to opposing casino expansion.

Once upon a time, polling put the two sides in a dead heat.

Any chance for a turnaround for North Jersey casinos?

Of course, there is still more than a month until voters actually head to the polls to cast their votes. But the polls seem to point to the issue being resolved in voters’ minds.

And there is going to be little done to change their minds. The group that was spending money on a “yes” vote for the referendum has already thrown in the towel, and will not air any new commercials.

So, short of something unexpected happening — or polls that are wildly off the mark — don’t plan on heading to North Jersey to play slots any time soon.