Atlantic City and New Jersey are making a lot of gaming headlines these days.
First, New Jersey joined the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, allowing its online poker players to participate with the players in Nevada and Delaware to create one large player pool.
Second, New Jersey finally won its fight to legalize sports betting. Today, Atlantic City casinos are scrambling to join Monmouth Park and Borgata in accepting sports wagers.
Fourth, while land-based casinos saw a slight decrease in revenue for May, online casinos continue to post stellar numbers.
The above headlines are contributing to the fact that a North Jersey casino might be a possibility after all.
Is a casino expansion law in the cards?
Voters in 2016 decisively voted to keep gambling confined to Atlantic City. Even so, lobbyists have been hard at work trying to gain support for casino expansion legislation.
Many believe NJ sports betting at racetracks like Monmouth Park will be the catalyst to allowing slot machines on site and eventually lead to gaming across the state.
“Atlantic City just doesn’t see the writing on the wall,” said Steve Norton, a veteran casino executive, to the Press of Atlantic City.
Norton was instrumental in bringing gambling to Atlantic City. He believes the city will benefit from casino expansion in New Jersey and is in favor of new legislation.
The support for casino expansion starts at the top with Gov. Phil Murphy. He is on record as supporting the measure because of its potential impact on the state’s economy.
It also was a point of discussion in the 2018-2019 legislative session. The session began with the introduction of a few measures in support of casino expansion beyond Atlantic City.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo sponsored ACR32 outlining the intent of the NJ Legislature to amend the state constitution to allow casinos in North Jersey. Caputo, as chairman of the Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, was able to get the bill to the committee. It stopped there, though.
Support for expansion also comes from Vincent Prieto, head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The former Assembly speaker believes the state should revisit casino expansion legislation.
Even though there appears to be some support, it is going to be hard to sell legislation that 78 percent of the voters were against in 2016.
Atlantic City probably wins even if there are more casinos
For casino expansion legislation to gain support, Norton suggests returning a portion of North Jersey casinos’ revenue to Atlantic City. The revenue would make up for lost tax income to the city and can be used to fund social programs for seniors and the disabled.
“Atlantic City should understand that if they get taxes from the Meadowlands, it could be a win-win for everybody,” Norton said.
Norton also floats the idea of establishing strategic partnerships. Specifically, he favors looking at Atlantic City International Airport and its ability to expand its reach into regional hubs such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.
The real beneficiaries of a casino expansion law may actually be the Atlantic City casinos. Opening a second casino may complement the Atlantic City property and support its NJ online casino operations, as well. Keeping potential revenue from a casino expansion in-house could be an attractive potential upside to the city’s casinos if legislation were to pass.
North Jersey casino lobbyists can expect a fight
Not everyone is ready to forget the result of the 2016 election. It seems the potential for a state revenue windfall is driving the renewed debate around gaming expansion. Even so, any legislation will likely have an uphill battle.
“Expanding casinos within New Jersey’s borders is a voter issue,” Bob Ambrose said. Ambrose, a professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, admits both sides of the debate have valid arguments.
Trenton’s Bad Bet is a lobbying group opposed to the idea of casino expansion into North Jersey. Bill Cortese, its executive director, said:
“We’ve seen casino expansion proponents continue their efforts to expand gaming outside of Atlantic City despite the overwhelming voice back in 2016 and, so, we still remain concerned about that expansion happening.”
David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, believes the success of NJ sports betting will determine whether the casino expansion debate continues or dies.
“With casinos fairly well spread around the Northeast, there might not be much more demand for casinos in North Jersey. I think that sports betting might either satisfy the appetites of North Jersey politicians for gaming money or whet them. … It all depends on how the public responds.”
In the end, it all comes back to the public. A lot has changed since residents voted the idea of casino expansion down. Is the change enough to change voters minds? Only time and another ballot measure will tell.