The November 8 election holds the possibility of extreme and unknown change at the highest level. Perhaps even broader change will occur from the municipal level on up as the electorate shapes policy at the grassroots and regional levels. More than half the U.S. states, 26 in total plus Washington, D.C., offer initiative and/or veto referendum rights for their citizens. This year four of those states will have voter initiatives on the ballot; Arkansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island citizens will be asked to guide the direction of the gambling industry in each of their respective states.
New Jersey residents may have the most riding on the outcome of their Question 1. The casino industry has been limited to Atlantic City since voters passed a referendum to change the state’s constitution and allow casinos there in 1976. This year, after the failure of 4, and soon to be 5 of the city’s 12 casinos operating in 2014, voters will be asked to approve two new casinos, each located at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. Current Atlantic City operators would have the first right to bid for those licenses by drafting proposals within 6 months to construct or open facilities worth a minimum of $1 billion each. If current operators fail to offer proposals in the 6-month time frame, entities outside of Atlantic City would be permitted to submit proposals.
The most talked about entrants for that possibility have been Jeff Gural and Paul Fireman. Gural’s proposal includes converting his Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment center in East Rutherford into a full-scale casino. Earlier reports indicate that a partnership with Hard Rock International is a good bet. Gural claims that gambling expansion would save the race track and directly or indirectly create as many as 43,000 jobs.
Paul Fireman, the founder of Reebok, wants to invest about $4 billion to build an integrated casino resort at his $250 million Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City. Jersey City is located across the Upper Bay from Lower Manhattan and directly across from the Brooklyn Ferry Terminal.
Both projects have been subject to an onslaught of negative publicity, partially funded by casino giant Genting, who operate Resorts World New York with nearly 5,000 NY Lottery system “slot machines” at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, Queens. The opposition has been hugely successful with “Trenton’s Bad Bet” announcing several new endorsements every week. The most recent poll by Stockton University shows that support for Question 1 has fallen to just 27 percent, in contrast to earlier polls that showed a near tie.
Arkansas voters will be asked to approve Issue 5. The constitutional amendment would allow up to three new casinos in the state – in Boone County, Miller County, and Washington County. The casinos would join Oaklawn Park Racing & Gaming, a horse track racino; and Southland Park Gaming & Racing, a greyhound track with electronic “slots” and table games like electronic blackjack as well as 6 electronic poker tables.
Although casino proponents delivered about 15,000 more supporting signatures than required, and the ballot measure has been certified and will appear on the ballot, opposition groups filed suit claiming irregularities and the question of whether or not to count votes for and against the referendum now rests with the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Rhode Island voters will face a Question 1 on their ballot as well. The question will read simply, “Shall a gambling facility and/or activity be established in the town (or city) of Tiverton?” Twin Rivers Management Company has proposed to move their license for the existing Newport Grand Casino to Tiverton and build a new casino hotel complex. This potential move comes after the local community in Newport refused to allow the addition of table games such as blackjack to the casino. The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and the Newport County Chamber of Commerce have all endorsed Question 1. Tiverton is located about 2 miles from Fall River, MA.
Massachusetts voters will be asked if they would like to change the constitution of the Commonwealth to allow a second slots parlor. The ballot question will read; “QUESTION 1. Expanding slot machine gaming. A “yes” vote would allow a second slots parlor to exist in Massachusetts. The 2011 gambling law currently allows for up to three resort casinos and one slots parlor. The slots parlor license is owned by Penn National Gaming, which operates Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville,” according to a government website.
If approved, the new slots casino would likely be built in Revere, about 4 miles from the under construction Wynn Boston Harbor in Everett, across the Mystic River from Boston.