The New Jersey gubernatorial race is down to Phil Murphy (D), a former Goldman Sachs executive and US ambassador to Germany, and Kim Guadagno (R), currently second in command serving as the lieutenant governor in Chris Christie’s administration.

North Jersey casino governor race

Candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno think northern parts of New Jersey should be allowed to get in on the casino game. (Image: Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

While the two disagree on nearly every issue facing the Garden State, they concur that Atlantic City’s monopoly on gambling should come to an end.

During this week’s final debate before the November 7 election to decide who will replace Christie after eight years, Murphy and Guadagno said gambling should be expanded to northern parts of the state. If that doesn’t happen, both candidates opined that casinos will continue to encroach on North Jersey, most likely across the Hudson River in New York City.

“If it’s not in North Jersey, before we know it, it will be on the west side of Manhattan,” Murphy opined. “I’d rather that gaming, and those jobs created, be in New Jersey.”

In a rare moment of the two sharing a position, Guadagno answered, “I agree.” But she added that casino expansion should only take place once Atlantic City is fully stabilized.

Bringing Casinos North

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot referendum during the 2016 election that asked if they approved authorizing two commercial casino resorts in counties at least 72 miles outside of Atlantic City. The question was defeated by 77 percent to 23 percent.

Interest groups on both sides of the issue spent over $24 million, the most of any proposal in state history. $14.6 million was in opposition, with the campaign heavily funded by Genting Group and Empire Resorts, two companies with casinos in Queens and Yonkers.

Amending the New Jersey Constitution and allowing casinos to come north can’t be put before voters again until the 2018 election. That’s because defeated referendums must be shelved for at least two years.

One entity that might not be too thrilled to learn that the next governor will support ending Atlantic City’s monopoly is Hard Rock International. The Florida-based gaming and hospitality conglomerate had developed plans for a $1 billion casino and entertainment complex at the Meadowlands with racetrack owner Jeff Gural.

After voters hushed the expansion talks, Hard Rock bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal in March of 2017. The company acquired the Atlantic City Boardwalk resort for just pennies on the dollar at $50 million, but is spending upwards of $500 million to renovate the property into a rock ‘n’ roll-themed destination.

Murphy’s to Lose

With less than three weeks remaining, all polling data points to an easy victory for Murphy. The Fox News poll released this week has Murphy at 47 percent to Guadagno at 33 percent. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Farleigh Dickinson’s most recent survey puts Murphy at 47 percent to Guadagno at 32 percent. Stockton University has him even farther ahead, 51 percent to 33 percent.

But as the entire country knows after the 2016 presidential election, polls cannot always be trusted.