The North Jersey casino referendum that voters easily rejected during the 2016 election will not be back on the ballot next fall, or perhaps ever, according to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D).
Talking with the Associated Press, Sweeney stated that he can’t see the state legislature taking steps to reintroduce the issue after it was so strongly opposed. “I don’t see it anytime soon, if ever,” the longtime lawmaker opined.
Sweeney’s lack of enthusiasm for ending Atlantic City’s gambling monopoly might come as a bit of a surprise, considering he supported the measure just a little more than 13 months ago. Further, the resolution to allow the construction of two casinos at least 72 miles outside of Atlantic City was almost unanimously a partisan issue, with Governor Chris Christie (R) the lone Republican lending support.
The referendum would have mandated that the first $200 million in taxes collected each year from the North Jersey casinos be earmarked for Atlantic City. Christie’s successor, Governor-elect Phil Murphy (D), says he also supports bringing gambling to northern counties.
“If it’s not North Jersey, before we know it, it will be on the west side of Manhattan,” the next governor said during a debate in November. “I would rather that gaming, and those jobs created, be in New Jersey.”
The 2016 North Jersey casino question was defeated by 77 percent to 23 percent. Constitutional referendums that aren’t approved cannot be put back before voters for a minimum of two years.
Timing is Everything
Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural, who with Hard Rock presented a vision of what a North Jersey casino resort would look like near the Meadowlands Sports Complex, said there is no rush in trying to win over residents.
“I don’t want them (the Legislature) to put this on the ballot again until we know it’s going to win,” Gural explained this week. “If it loses again, it will never happen.”
The real estate tycoon has seen his stake in New Jersey’s Meadowlands Racetrack, as well as Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in New York, struggle in recent decades. The dying industry, he says, can only be saved by casino-style gambling.
“Horse racing has been destroyed,” Gural stated in 2016. “Eventually, there will be a casino at the Meadowlands. There has to be.”
While the main concern is that New York will authorize a commercial casino in Manhattan, and therefore poach much of northern New Jersey’s gambling dollars that presently flow south to Atlantic City, the reality is that won’t be happening anytime soon.
A current ban on allowing a casino to be built in Manhattan is set to expire in December 2022. At that time, the New York State Gaming Commission could authorize a commercial gambling venue in New York City’s most densely populated borough.
That means Gural and other proponents in New Jersey who would like to see gambling move north, and they have five more fall elections to ask voters to reconsider their 2016 position.