Meadowlands casino

The Meadowlands Sports Complex has long attracted fans from New York, and some lawmakers hope a casino there could do the same. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Since New Jersey first legalized casino gambling in 1976, it has been understood that casinos were only meant for Atlantic City in the Garden State. That made sense, at least at the time: the resort town had fallen out of favor with tourists, and gambling was seen as a way to bring money back into the local economy. But with increasing competition from Pennsylvania and the specter of New York casinos on the horizon, some in the state now want to build a casino in a location that could directly compete with venues in neighboring states.

The idea of putting a casino in the Meadowlands – located just outside of New York City – was floated again last week at the East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, attracting support as well as concern from those in attendance.

“A casino in north Jersey, to be taxed at 50 or 60 percent, we could do a billion dollars in that location,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a Democrat. “We’ve got to be fighting for those customers. That’s what Pennsylvania is doing. That’s what New York wants to do.”

Beating New York to the Market

Caputo’s idea is to get a casino built in the Meadowlands before one is built in New York City. While the state of New York has recently started the licensing process for commercial casinos, the first few licenses are only available in upstate regions. Casinos in the city and surrounding suburbs are several years away from being proposed, let alone built.

The plan is a popular one among legislators in northern New Jersey who would like to see more gambling revenue for their region. Republican Governor Chris Christie has not ruled out the idea, but made a 2011 agreement to give Atlantic City five years to show improvement before considering allowing voters to approve casinos in other parts of the state.

Opponents Say New Casino Would Only Hurt Atlantic City

As revenues at Atlantic City’s casinos continue to fall, support for a Meadowlands casino has certainly increased. However, lawmakers in and around the city are strongly against a proposal, saying it won’t help the state – just hurt the already struggling casino ocean resort city.

“We have to stop talking about the Meadowlands,” said State Senator Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat from Cape May County. “The Meadowlands would cannibalize the industry; the Meadowlands will just further split that gambling pie and hurt Atlantic City.”

Even if a Meadowlands casino isn’t in the cards, though, there are still many questions about the future of Atlantic City to be answered. With the Atlantic Club closing in January, there are now 11 casinos operating in the city. Some experts say this is still too many for the city to support.

“My heart is in Atlantic City, but clearly there is oversaturation in this market,” said Anthony Faranca, general manager of Parx Casino. “Even if it does turn the corner, I think there’s too much capacity in this great city. There are some tough decisions that have to be made.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3rd District) said that while it’s likely that casino expansion will eventually come up in the legislature, it’s important to strengthen Atlantic City first. He also pointed out that adding more casinos in New Jersey doesn’t necessarily mean that the Meadowlands will get to host one by default.

“It will be a discussion about where it fits, and where the market works,” Sweeney said.