A compromise over a referendum on casino gambling in North Jersey has been reached by two Democratic legislators, Governor Chris Christie announced on his return to the State House on Monday.
Coming on the eve of the end of the legislative session, the agreement enables a vote to approve adding the measure to the November ballot. The referendum will decide whether or not two northern New Jersey counties will get new casinos. If successful the state constitution will be amended allowing casinos beyond Atlantic City. Currently, New Jersey’s constitution only allows gambling in Atlantic City. It would be the biggest change to legalized gambling since 1978 when the seaside resort casinos began operating.
Up until Monday’s agreement competing ideas for casino expansion had been pressed by Vincent Prieto, the speaker of the Assembly and the president of the New Jersey Senate, Stephen M. Sweeney. The two Democratic leaders both pushed for the passage of bills asking voters to permit two North jersey casinos to be taxed at a much higher rate than the 8 percent tax rate the Atlantic City casinos pay; with a substantial portion of the revenue from those taxes going back to the ailing Atlantic City. The similarities in the legislator’s proposals end there. With a South Jersey support base, Sweeney proposed that only the operators of Atlantic City’s remaining eight casinos be eligible for the new casino licenses, while Prieto, who is from Hudson County, proposed that one of the licenses be available to bidders from outside of Atlantic City.
While Prieto agreed to support Sweeney’s bill after it was passed by the Senate on Monday in a 33-6 vote, one change would have to be agreed upon. That change, a minimum requirement of a $1 billion investment in each of the new casinos, was agreed to by Sweeney. The deal seemingly dashed two businessmen’s hopes for casinos in North Jersey, one along Jersey City’s waterfront, the other in the Meadowlands. Nonetheless, according to Prieto, his expectations had been met, and he called the deal, “a compromise to make sure that the right type of casinos are built in the north to maximize the benefit for the state of New Jersey,” as reported by the New York Times.
Governor Christie’s appearance with both Sweeney and Prieto outside his office seemed to indicate Sweeney’s legislation would receive the required votes to add the question to the 2016 ballot. The governor backed Sweeney’s bill on Friday, and his office released this statement, “I have already clearly stated my support for the expansion of gaming to Northern New Jersey given the economic growth and job creation it will bring to our state.”
It is unclear as to whether or not New Jersey voters would approve an expansion of casino gambling in the state.