Notwithstanding current legislation being considered by New Jersey lawmakers that would greenlight two casinos in the northern part of the state, a real estate tycoon’s plans to build a $1 billion Hard Rock Casino at the Meadowlands are still being pursued.
The announcement by Governor Chris Christie on Monday that two Democratic legislators had reached a compromise over a referendum on casino gambling puts Jeff Gural, who leases and operates the Meadowlands Racetrack, at a disadvantage. The legislation that would be put to voters in November is significant step towards realizing casino development outside Atlantic City. However, due to the bill’s licensing requirement that current Atlantic City license holders get first dibs on the new licenses, he is at a marked disadvantage. Gural does not possess such a license.
Gural said he is willing to partner with an Atlantic City operator to realize construction of the East Rutherford casino, which was first proposed with Hard Rock International last year, according to The Wall Street Journal. According to Gural, a $120 million investment in a new grandstand at the racetrack has already been made by him and a casino could be opened there within months of obtaining a license. Gural said he would seek a partnership with an Atlantic City operator who would not only keep Hard Rock International on board, but help finance a public campaign to encourage voters to approve the casino referendum. Gural said he has spoken about a partnership with Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts Atlantic City, and “He’s interested.” However, a Bailey spokeswoman who declined to say whether Bailey was interested or not did point out that he “firmly believes” the addition of casinos in North Jersey would have a negative impact on the seaside resort town, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Roger Gros, publisher of the Global Gaming Business Magazine, said that partnerships that ordinarily might not have taken place could be forced by the proposed licensing requirement, according to the WSJ report. However, because licensing typically takes a year or more in New Jersey, the requirement could speed the process for outside developers. Gros said, “The Atlantic City casinos are not in any kind of financial shape to take on a project of this size on their own. This might be a match made in heaven, who knows.”
The bidding constraints don’t make Wynn Las Vegas happy either, according to a spokesman for the casino magnate Steve Wynn who operates the company. The spokesman said the company is keeping abreast of news of the legislation. Another interested party is MGM Grand, which is a 50 percent stakeholder in the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. Whether or not the company would seek a partnership is too soon to tell.
The proposal was amended on Thursday by a Senate committee to cut the amount of time, from six months to 60 days, which vendors in Atlantic City would have to bid before the state opened new license bidding to all developers. While the measure was passed by the state Senate’s budget committee, a three-fifths approval is required of both legislative chambers by August in order for it to appear on the 2016 ballot.