North Jersey Casino Expansion Ballot Referendum Lacking Support as November Vote Beckons

Posted on: August 1, 2016, 12:29h. 

Last updated on: August 1, 2016, 01:07h.

Although North Jersey casinos will be considered by Garden State voters this November, the current opinion tide seems to favor maintaining gambling’s status quo.

In addition to deciding between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for president, New Jerseyans will be faced with a referendum on whether Atlantic City’s casino monopoly should end, with gambling being allowed to migrate north.

North Jersey casino referendum Meadowlands Sports Complex
The Meadowlands Sports Complex is a likely location for a North Jersey casino, should a gambling referendum pass in November. But support for the measure seems to be lacking among voters. (Image: AP)

But unfortunately for those who believe two land-based venues in northern counties would be beneficial to both the state and Atlantic City, there appears to be little enthusiasm for the amendment. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll release in mid-July, 58 percent of residents are against commercial casino-style gambling outside of Atlantic City.

Gambling in New Jersey has been confined to Atlantic City since casinos were legalized there in 1976.

“This suggests the supporters of this amendment will continue to experience an uphill battle convincing voters that casinos beyond Atlantic City are a worthwhile investment in local economies,” PublicMind Professor of Political Science Krista Jenkins said in statement. “Even among those who have dropped some chips on a table or coins into a machine, a majority are opposed to expansion beyond Atlantic City.”

Challengers Express Concerns

Those who support casino expansion include numerous northern county politicians and the state’s Governor Chris Christie (R). But proponents of statewide gambling are doing little to increase their odds of a successful November vote.

Meanwhile, opposition is intensifying.

A new organization called Trenton’s Bad Bet went public last week. But unlike many of the other groups fighting the North Jersey casinos, Bad Bet is headquartered in Newark, not Atlantic City.

The group says the referendum is “cryptic in details” and claims the benefits being touted will never come to fruition.

“We are focused on generating awareness with voters so they understand what a bad deal this is for taxpayers,” Trenton’s Bad Bet Executive Director Bill Cortese said in a release. “Very little information has been shared, a typical play by Trenton politicians when they want to move something through the back door.”

A search for a website on the anti-gaming group bore no fruit.

Christie and those in favor say bringing casino resorts north will generate billions of dollars in new revenue and create thousands of jobs. The referendum would direct $200 million annually to Atlantic City from taxes paid by the new casinos.

But State Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-District 2) holds firm, noting that he doesn’t want his district to lose its gaming monopoly.

“If we build in an over-saturated market, they will not come,” Brown said back in March.

Rally Cries

Christie conceded in May that the North Jersey casino plan was “in big trouble.” Fast-forward two months later, and things seem even more dire for supporters.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-District 28), one of the sponsors of the expanded casino resolution, told The Wall Street Journal last week that he was “very disappointed that it’s not getting the attention it should.”

And while millions of dollars in anti-expansion ads are expected to be spent over the next 100 days in television and radio ads, pro-north casino groups are few and far between.

However, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-District 3) did hold a rally in Bergen County in June, along with labor unions and local politicians, and he remains optimistic.

“I’m tired of the North vs. South vs. Central Jersey stuff. It’s about time we worked together,” Sweeney said.