New Jersey Voters Divided on Approving November Referendum to Bring Casinos North

Posted on: June 2, 2016, 01:23h. 

Last updated on: June 2, 2016, 01:23h.

New Jersey voters casino referendum Meadowlands
It’s not the prettiest sports complex in the world, but the Meadowlands across the Hudson River from New York City could attract a $1 billion casino resort in the coming years should New Jersey voters decide to end Atlantic City’s monopoly on gambling. (Image: Associated Press/

New Jersey voters will decide this November if they want to end Atlantic City’s commercial gambling monopoly and allow two casinos to be built in the northern part of the state. It’s a decision that could end a 40-year law that allows casinos to operate within the Atlantic City limits but nowhere else in the Garden State.

Along with choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders, New Jersey residents will consider if casinos upstate would be so beneficial to the tax base that it warrants amending the New Jersey Constitution.

As of June 2, voters are evenly split.

The latest polling data issued by Monmouth University shows that among registered voters, 48 percent say they plan to support the proposed change, while another 48 percent say they intend to oppose the referendum.

As expected, the voting demographic supporting the expansion heavily resides in the northern counties. North Jersey voters back the referendum 52-43, while those in South Jersey dissent at 42-54.

“The fate of the casino expansion measure is anyone’s guess,” Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray said. “The public does not express overwhelming confidence that adding North Jersey casinos will be an economic boon and there is widespread concern that this would hurt an already precarious Atlantic City.”

Icahn Checks

No one is interested in the outcome of the November referendum more than the power players in Atlantic City. And when it comes to the multibillion-dollar individuals and companies operating in the beachfront resort city, opinions seem to differ.

Carl Icahn, who acquired the Trump Taj Mahal in February along with its hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, planned to renovate the property and pump an additional $100 million into the property. But that investment came with the stipulation that casinos would remain exclusive to Atlantic City.

“It would not be judicious to proceed with those investments while gaming in north Jersey is an open issue, and we will have to wait to see the outcome of those proposals,” Icahn said in March.

MGM Bets

While Icahn waits for the November referendum outcome, MGM has already not only called, but made a substantial bet on Atlantic City. As reported, MGM Resorts International is buying out Boyd Gaming’s 50 percent share of the Borgata Hotel Casino for $900 million.

That will give MGM 100 percent ownership of the plushest resort in town.

MGM CEO Jim Murren conceded in a press release that “the market continues to experience challenges,” but his company apparently still feels confident that the last 10 years, which saw casino revenue decline each year, can be reversed.

Should the referendum be approved, a portion of the tax revenue received by the state from the two north casinos would be directed to aid in Atlantic City’s recovery.

Boyd Gaming is taking its winnings and stepping away, Icahn is still at the table, and MGM is going all-in.

This November, the voters will deal the river card, Icahn will make his final bet, and everyone will be forced to live with their hand.