[toc]The presidential election results may have been a shock to the system for half the country, but the results of a consequential ballot referendum in New Jersey didn’t surprise anyone.
However, the final margin by which it failed certainly turned some heads.
On Tuesday, New Jersey voters resoundingly rejected a ballot referendum that would have allowed casinos to be built in North Jersey, thereby ending Atlantic City’s 40 year-monopoly on gambling.
When all was said and done, the measure lost by a near 4-1 margin.
Why the NJ casino referendum was so lopsided
A big cause of the disproportionate vote was money. Neither side was shy with its money, but the against side had a clear advantage.
It’s being reported that a total of $23 million was spent on the issue (a New Jersey record), with the against side pouring in $14.4 million, and the pro side ponying up $8.6 million.
As the money poured in, the against side’s polling numbers steadily increased. With several weeks to go and no path to victory, the pro side made the difficult choice to pull most of its advertising.
The spending disparity was one factor that may have tipped the scales against New Jersey casino expansion, but throughout the process New Jersey residents pointed to a lack of specifics in the bill as a key reason for their opposition.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by tonight’s result. 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.”
What happens next?
The idea of bringing casinos to North Jersey isn’t a new one. It’s an idea that has been kicked around for many years and will almost certainly rear its head again in the coming years.
In late October, one of the companies interested in building a North Jersey casino signaled that while 2016 seemed like a lost cause, the idea of North Jersey casino expansion isn’t going to simply disappear.
“I know there has been a big advertising campaign against the referendum and that the polling is not good, but even if we had to wait another two years, that would not be a deterrent,” Berger Group CEO Miles Berger told writer John Brennan of NorthJersey.com.
That being said, the margin of the defeat is hard to ignore. And if there was ever a time that New Jersey residents would consider casino expansion beyond the borders of Atlantic City it would have been 2016.
Consider the situation on the ground heading into the Nov. 8 election:
- Atlantic City was tumbling into bankruptcy and was set to be taken over by an emergency manager assigned by the state.
- Five of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos have closed since the start of 2014, including the Trump Taj Mahal, which closed in October.
- The casino closures have caused a surge in unemployment, and Atlantic City’s current unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent, with spikes pushing it up near 20 percent off-season.
- The median home sale price in Atlantic City has plummeted by more than 50 percent over the past five years.
- Total Atlantic City gaming revenue has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2006.
- In the next couple years, casinos will open in New York and Massachusetts. These casinos are expected to further erode Atlantic City’s revenues.
Those in favor of North Jersey expansion are likely to push for another referendum in 2018 and beyond, and they will likely try to close the money gap and call for a more specific plan from the legislature to assuage the fears of voters.
Still, it’s difficult to envision they will have more favorable circumstances for their cause than they were presented with in 2016.