Some Key Lawmakers Ready To Put The North Jersey Casino Issue To Bed

Written By Eric Ramsey on December 20, 2017 - Last Updated on April 8, 2020

[toc]The referendum to build casinos in northern New Jersey won’t be reappearing on the ballot any time soon.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Senate president Steve Sweeney indicated that he doesn’t see lawmakers trying again in 2018 or 2019.

“I don’t see it anytime soon, if ever. I don’t see any way where it comes back; it was crushed.”

The voters of New Jersey struck down the 2016 referendum by a margin of more than 3:1.

Sweeney, others weigh in

Sweeney was one of several stakeholders interviewed by the AP, and he expressed pessimism throughout the conversation. “I just don’t see it reasonably coming back and making sense,” he repeated.

Frank Gilliam Jr., the incoming mayor of Atlantic City, also gave his thoughts. He wants to keep NJ casinos exclusive to his city, and he’s happy to see the issue swept aside for the time being.

“That’s music to my ears,” Gilliam said. “We won’t have to worry about having two sets of casinos at opposite ends of the state for at least five years.”

Racetracks appeased for now

Perhaps the most interesting comments came from Jeff Gural, who owns Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford. His property would have been a key beneficiary of the referendum, set to partner with Hard Rock for an expansive new casino.

Gural has been patient with the expansion process, and he reaffirmed his stance to the AP. “However long I have to wait, I’ll wait,” he said. “I don’t want them to put this on the ballot again until we know it’s going to win. If it loses again, it will never happen.”

The tracks were among the biggest proponents of expansion, but there is suddenly less reason for them to press the issue.

A bill aimed at bringing internet gaming to racetracks is making progress through the state legislature. The bill would allow them to partner with Atlantic City casinos to offer online gaming at their properties. It’s not a casino, but it’s the next-best thing for now.

There is also the potential for legalized sports betting on the horizon, which could give racetracks a significant revenue boost on its own.

A lot hinges on New York

Opponents of expansion argued that casinos near the New York border would cannibalize revenue from struggling Atlantic City properties.

New York is on the verge of its own gaming expansion, though. Within the next five or six years, the Big Apple could have multiple resort casinos. Opponents of NJ expansion have expressed concern about a potential “border arms race” of casino building.

Gural, however, thinks movement in the neighboring state will spark progress in his own:

“As soon as New York opens the three downstate casinos, the argument will no longer be about saving Atlantic City. New York and New Jersey will need revenue after this federal tax bill passes, and the one thing a Meadowlands casinos would do is send $500 million a year to the state.”

Gural called NYC casinos “the best way to ensure” he gets his casino in East Rutherford.

He and others in the region had hoped to get the jump on the marketplace by opening up before New York City. But it sounds like they’re content to wait and let pressure build — not that they have a choice for now.

“I’d rather wait six years until New York is either open or ready to open, and then voters will say, ‘Wait a minute,'” Gural said. Earlier this year, he guaranteed that a casino would eventually be built in northern NJ in spite of the referendum vote.

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Eric Ramsey

Eric is a reporter and writer covering the NJ gambling industry, online poker, sports betting regulation, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.

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