A group of New Jersey Assembly members recently introduced a bill that would bring casinos to North Jersey, and a few days later the Senate followed suit, introducing its own casino expansion bill. Both bills would accomplish the same thing, expanding casino gaming beyond Atlantic City, but there are several key differences.
Casino expansion beyond Atlantic City has long been considered a way to bolster the state’s casino industry and generate new revenue, but only began to receive serious consideration in the past couple years.
The Assembly bill
A total of ten Assembly Democrat lawmakers, led by longtime North Jersey casino expansion advocate, and Chairman of Assembly Gaming Committee Ralph Caputo (R-Essex), introduced their new bill on December 11.
It would license up to two casinos outside of Atlantic City (in two Northern New Jersey counties) and the revenue generated would go toward a variety of purposes ranging from property tax relief and senior and disabled services, to directing funds to assist in the recovery, stabilization, and improvement of Atlantic City casinos and the state’s horse racing industry.
“This is a game-changing proposal for New Jersey taxpayers,” said Caputo in a press release. “We would modernize our gaming industry and provide significant relief for senior citizens and disabled residents. It’s truly a win for everyone.”
“I’ve long said North Jersey gaming was a matter of when, not if, and with this proposal, voters will get the chance to strengthen our state’s financial future,” said another sponsor of the bill, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen).
“A modernized gaming industry will compete with other states and provide a hefty infusion of money for programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents. This bill does the right thing for both Atlantic City and our senior and disabled residents. This is something everyone can support,” Prieto continued.
The Senate bill
The rival senate bill was introduced by Senate President Steve Sweeney, a longtime supporter of Atlantic City’s casino industry. Under Sweeney’s plan, the North Jersey licenses would be made available to current operators in Atlantic City, ostensibly to make sure they’re not absolute rivals with no stake in the survival of Atlantic City.
Sweeney envisions a scenario in which players can earn comps at a Meadowlands casino that they could then use in Atlantic City if so desired.
Under Sweeney’s plan, the revenue earmarked for Atlantic City (which is radically different from the Assembly’s bill) would go directly to an investment fund, and “not one penny,” according to Sweeney, would go to the city’s municipal fund.
Not everyone sees the idea of North Jersey casinos as helpful.
“The Atlantic City market finally started to stabilize in 2015, after years of cannibalization by casinos in neighboring states,” The Casino Association of New Jersey said of the proposal. “The last thing this community needs is more competition from within our own state’s borders.”
And they’re not alone. Casino expansion beyond Atlantic City has many critics, for a variety of reasons.
Assemblyman Chris Brown worries about further job loss in Atlantic City. “You’re killing Atlantic City. You’re killing it,” he said. “On behalf of over 15,000 people looking to lose their jobs on top of the 10,000 who already have, I ask you to table this.”
State Senator Jeff Van Drew is more concerned about reallocating revenue from the new casinos in order to prop up Atlantic City. “I hope Atlantic City does not become a ward of the state of New Jersey,” Van Drew said.
Both proposals would require a constitutional amendment
In order for New Jersey to expand gaming beyond the borders of Atlantic City, the state would have to pass a constitutional amendment, which would require the bill to be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Furthermore, the measure would need to pass a statewide referendum.
If passed by the voters, determining the location of – and the tax rate levied upon – the future casinos would be left up to the legislature.
How the revenue from the new casinos would be allocated
The assembly bill allocates 35 percent of revenues for Atlantic City for 15 years. Thereafter the amount earmarked for Atlantic City would decrease by 1.5 percent annually, with that money reallocated for other state programs and property tax relief.
After 25 years, the revenue allocation would remain constant, with Atlantic City receiving 20 percent, and 78 percent going towards the other programs.
Under Sweeney’s senate bill, Atlantic City would receive nothing in the first year, but beginning in the second year, Atlantic City would receive 50 percent of the first $150 million in tax revenue from the new casinos. The amount earmarked for Atlantic City decreases by 10 perent for every $150 million beyond the first $150 million, down to 20 percent.
The two bills want the same thing, by they are miles apart on the details. That being said, if the legislature can find a compromise, it’s highly likely New Jersey residents will vote for it on the ballot – assuming this all gets done in time and it makes it on the 2016 ballot, of course.
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