New Jersey Lawmakers Agree to Vote Deal for North NJ Casinos

Posted on: January 12, 2016, 03:44h. 

Last updated on: January 12, 2016, 03:44h.

New Jersey to vote on casino expansion
State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who wanted to open up one of the licenses to companies from outside New Jersey, has agreed to a compromise with Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Image: northjersey.com)

New Jersey residents are likely to vote on the issue of whether to break Atlantic City’s longstanding casino gaming monopoly and expand the industry to North Jersey.

State lawmakers have put aside their differences to agree to a deal that demands a minimum of $1 billion of investment from prospective developers, should a public referendum next November agree to license two casinos in the north.

The concept has been discussed for some time. Atlantic City’s casinos never quite bounced back from the last economic downturn, and 2014 and 2015, in particular, will be remembered as a dark period for a once-thriving industry, with four casino closures in the city.

Growth has been stymied by the emergence of casino expansion in abutting states, most notably Pennsylvania, and meanwhile the embryonic industries of Massachusetts and New York represent further danger to the already teetering AC.

However, North Jersey’s proximity to Manhattan and the New York greater metropolitan area makes a casino market there an attractive option.

Wynn Interest?

While some of the finer points of the new bill, announced Monday, have yet to be ironed out, it would offer Atlantic City’s current licensees first refusal on the two licenses. Should they pass up on the opportunity, the field would then open up to proposals from outside of state.

Hard Rock International and the Meadowlands Racetrack are known to be interested in a casino in East Rutherford, home to the New York Giants and New York Jets. There have also been proposals for a project on the waterfront in Jersey City, directly across from Lower Manhattan.

Recent speculation suggests that Steve Wynn, who built the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City before selling up and moving on in 1987, may also be interested.

Compromise Reached

The new bill represents a compromise between the competing bills of State Senate President Steve Sweeney and New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

The latter had insisted that at least one of the two licenses should automatically be offered to a casino company not currently doing business in New Jersey.

But with the state legislative session beginning today and language broadly agreed upon by both houses, the bill is likely to be introduced as soon as possible, and would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

There remain dissenting voices, however, particularly from State Senator Jim Whelan, who believes the proposals would be damaging for Atlantic City.

“What happens to North Jersey casinos when New York City inevitably gets one?” he asked. “It is foolish to think that gaming in North Jersey would do anything but cannibalize an already saturated market in the same way that casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland have cannibalized ours.”