[toc]With polling data suggesting support for the north New Jersey casino referendum is waning, advocates are ramping up their outreach efforts.
On Wednesday, supporters of the measure to expand gaming’s footprint beyond the confines of Atlantic City launched the OUR Turn NJ campaign and website.
According to its press release, the OUR Turn NJ campaign will be launching a series of TV, radio, and web ads designed to educate voters, and trumpet the benefits of extending NJ casino gambling to the northern part of the state.
On the group’s website, it states (with a lot of emphasis on the word “our”):
“NEIGHBORING STATES HAVE BEEN STEALING our GAMING REVENUE FOR MORE THAN TEN YEARS. That has cost New Jersey $15 billion dollars and countless jobs. We lost $1.8 billion alone for programs critical to our seniors and those with disabilities… AND WE THE PEOPLE OF NEW JERSEY HAD TO MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE WITH our TAX DOLLARS. Are you tired of being a punching bag for Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York? It is time to say no more. Now, it is our turn – our turn to take back our jobs and our dollars to help our seniors and most vulnerable residents.
OUR Turn NJ will educate New Jerseyans about the choice this November to stop TAKING PUNCHES AND START THROWING THEM. SUPPORT GAMING IN NORTHERN NEW JERSEY. LETS TAKE BACK WHAT IS ours.”
Polling gives the edge to opposition
Whether by coincidence or necessity, the launch of OUR Turn NJ comes as support for the referendum is at a recent low, plummeting from its high water mark in June.
Months of polling suggested the referendum would be close, with a slight edge to those who oppose expanded gaming. A Monmouth University poll from early June had Garden State residents evenly split on the issue.
In the Monmouth poll, 48 percent of the 806 residents polled were in favor of expanding casino gaming beyond Atlantic City’s borders, and 48 percent of respondents opposed the measure.
A poll of 902 New Jersey residents by Farleigh Dickinson taken back in January indicated 42 percent of respondents supported casino gaming in north New Jersey, with 50 percent of respondents opposed to it. In June 2015, Farleigh Dickinson polling data showed 37 percent in favor of north New Jersey expansion, and 57 percent opposed.
Fast forward to a July poll of 712 registered New Jersey voters by Farleigh Dickinson, and suddenly support for the referendum had dwindled to just 35 percent. Even more troublesome for supporters, opposition had grown to 57 percent.
Based on Farleigh Dickinson’s polling, opposition to the referendum has grown from +8% to +22% between January and July.
OUR Turn NJ is hoping to reverse this trend, but it’s not the only group trying to influence voters.
No North Jersey Casinos Coalition
On the opposite side of the ledger is the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition, a group opposing casino expansion outside Atlantic City. The opponents of north New Jersey casinos are concerned that the subsidies these proposed casinos will send to Atlantic City won’t offset the revenue and investment they divert away from Atlantic City.
The coalition’s chairwoman, Debra DiLorenzo, who is the president and CEO of the Southern New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, made the group’s case on its website, saying in part:
“This unsound proposal will result in great damage to our region, with no documented credible economic gains to offset the losses that will be experienced in Atlantic City, Atlantic County, South Jersey and the State.
What we do know is that the gaming market in Atlantic City has stabilized, and that in-state competition will have a tremendously detrimental impact on our region.”
You can read my previous thoughts on the case for and against North Jersey casino expansion, as well as some ideas on what Atlantic City casinos could do to bolster their businesses regardless of the outcome.
A lot can still change
To say Atlantic City is on shaky ground would be putting it mildly, and the health and future prospects of the city and its casinos will be one of the key factors voters consider when they cast their ballots on Nov. 8.
Despite the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition’s claims of stabilization, the Atlantic City casino industry continues to exist in a state of uncertainty, evidenced by the recent announcement that the Trump Taj Mahal (fresh out of bankruptcy) will be closing in the fall.
The remaining casinos are in better shape now that the market has seen the number of operators drop from 12 to eight (and soon seven when the Taj closes), but there is no telling how things will progress from here on out.
How Atlantic City fares between now and November, and how the Atlantic City casino landscapes shifts in that time, will weigh heavily on the minds of New Jersey voters when they vote on the fate of the referendum. Voters will likely be asking themselves questions like:
- Will there be more Atlantic City casino closures?
- When will the Revel reopen?
- Will the revenue and operating profits at the remaining properties go up or down?
- What kind of fiscal shape will Atlantic City be in come November?
- Will non-casino investment in Atlantic City pick up?
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