Opposition to North Jersey casino expansion gathered in Trenton on Monday to denounce lawmakers’ plans to tear up Atlantic City’s longstanding casino monopoly in the state.
Atlantic City business owners and concerned residents joined politicians such as State Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) in condemning the New Jersey bill at a public hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.
Among the bill’s criticisms was a very real fear that the proposal could kill the resort town, which has already lost a quarter of its casinos and with them some 8,000 jobs, over the past two years.
Legislators want to allow the creation of two licenses in northern New Jersey, hoping they will attract hordes of gamblers from the New York metropolitan area, which in turn would bolster the state’s faltering casino industry.
Since this would require an amendment to the state constitution, the matter would go to a public ballot likely to be voted on in November. But the bill would need to be approved by three-fifths of both chambers in order for this to happen.
Should the bill become law, Atlantic City’s current casino licensees would be offered the chance to bid for the North Jersey licenses first. If they prove to be uninterested, the field would then be opened up to operators from outside the state.
Politicians have said Atlantic City will receive up to $200 million in compensation from taxes on the new casinos, but taxation levels have yet to be decided, which alarms many in the resort city.
Joe Kelly, president of Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said that he did not understand how the bill could possibly move forward without these figures.
“We don’t know what kind of revenue will be returned to Atlantic City, we don’t know who it will be returned to or how it will work,” he complained.
He also said he believed the proposal would result in two more casino closures in the city, and the potential loss of 14,000 more jobs.
Senator Whelan warned that the state was playing with fire by expanding into the north and that the area will not be immune from the problem of saturation.
“We’re not going to [see] casinos in north Jersey have a 20-25 year monopoly,” he said. “It will be a matter of years before New York City has casinos in Manhattan or in the Bronx. What Atlantic City is experiencing now, north Jersey will experience at that time.”
Another public hearing is due on March 7 in the Assembly, after which the bill will be voted on in both houses.