New Jersey Casino Expansion Losing Support Among Garden State Voters, Atlantic City Sues State

Posted on: April 20, 2016, 10:08h. 

Last updated on: April 20, 2016, 10:20h.

New Jersey casino expansion Chris Christie
Governor Chris Christie supports a New Jersey casino expansion referendum, but it’s not so popular with voters who will have the final say come November. (Image: Mel Evans/Associated Press)

New Jersey casino expansion has the backing of numerous key state lawmakers including Governor Chris Christie (R), but unless the majority of Garden State residents support bringing casinos north, Atlantic City will preserve its gambling monopoly.

A recent poll conducted by the Rutgers-Eagleton Institute of Politics found that just 44 percent of voters feel that casinos should be permitted in jurisdictions outside of Atlantic City, while 49 percent believe gambling should remain restricted to the southeastern beachfront metropolis.

That’s a stark contrast to earlier polling that suggested New Jerseyans favored ending Atlantic City’s gaming exclusivity.

Along with picking a new US president in November, voters in New Jersey will also be challenged with deciding whether to amend their state constitution to allow the construction of additional gambling facilities in northern counties of the state.

AC Moves All-In

Atlantic City is broke and in debt, yet its local government is continuing to spend as if it’s the early 2000s and the local economy is still flourishing with revenues aplenty.

Christie and State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) have advocated for the state to assume control of the city’s governance in order to reign in spending. In contrast, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (R) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) favor a rescue plan from the state and the creation of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program for casinos.

The back-and-forth war between the two parties culminated this week with Atlantic City suing the State of New Jersey for $33.5 million.

Christie allowed a $33.5 million Atlantic City rescue aid package approved by the state legislature to expire on his desk in January. The governor said he would sign the bill if, and only if, the city agreed to a state takeover.

Out of money and still responsible for essential programs such as the public school district and fire and police departments, the Atlantic City Council claims it had no alternative but to take legal action.

“We have to fight back. We believe to balance this thing out, we have to go in front of a judge,” City Council President Marty Small told NJ Advance Media.

City Out of Chips

Guardian says his hands are tied and the ball is in Christie’s court.

“The real issue now is for Governor Christie and the Legislature to agree on a compromise to quickly end the fiscal crisis,” Guardian declared. “I have spoken with many legislators who want to find a compromise . . . I am confident that once we get past the politics, we will find a winning solution that everyone can agree upon.”

With quarterly tax payments set to be received by Atlantic City in early May, Christie and Sweeney want to make sure those monies are directed to the schools before paying government employee salaries, vendors, and other local bills.

Christie said last week that the settlement will be worked out behind closed doors.

“I do not negotiate out in public and I have negotiated plenty on this issue already,” the two-term governor and former presidential candidate explained. “I have told them I want the Sweeney bill as it was originally passed . . . If they have something else they want to show me, I am always willing to listen but I am certainly not changing my position.”