Two competing proposals to allow voters to decide whether or not to expand casino gambling beyond Atlantic City, New Jersey will be voted on in their respective chambers Monday. January 11 is the end of this legislative session. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Steve Sweeney have failed to come to a compromise and each will lead the fight for their own bill to be forwarded to the other for consideration. At contention are who will be allowed to own the casinos and how much of the revenue will go to a struggling Atlantic City that could be further threatened by outside competition within the state.
Each say they have enough votes to move their proposals onto the next round. Prieto’s bill would allow an operator from outside Atlantic City to capture one of the licenses with the other reserved for an existing operator. One known potential beneficiary of his proposal would be a Hard Rock Casino at the Meadowlands – an idea floated earlier in 2015. There have also been mentions of Steve Wynn expressing interest and speculations that Sheldon Adelson may become a player if the Assembly bill becomes law. Local media are also reporting that Speaker Prieto is “aware of interest” in his proposal from Paul Fireman, the founder of Reebok and owner of Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, as well as American Dream Meadowlands developer Triple Five.
Sweeny is steadfast in defending the position that only established Atlantic City operators should have the opportunity to compete for the licenses and that his proposal pushes more of the revenue to Atlantic City. In May, Governor Chris Christie said he could support a casino outside the city if revenues went to help Atlantic City. However the casino he said he could support is Hard Rock, further complicating potential negotiations.
If neither bill wins a 60% “supermajority” before the next legislative session begins Tuesday, the odds grow longer. Prieto is quoted in NorthJersey.com yesterday as saying, “It would be an easy lift to get to 48 and 24,” in reference to the votes needed in the Assembly and Senate, respectively, to reach that number. “The world doesn’t end on Jan. 11. We have time. We just need to get it right.”
If neither measure succeeds Monday, which it is highly unlikely either will, legislators will have until August to pass a bill allowing voters to make the final decision in November. Presently there is no mechanism or bill in place to let voters choose one or the other, or deny both proposals.
Other casino related legislative actions expected for Monday include the Assembly considering an already approved Senate bill removing deed restrictions which would open the Showboat property to more opportunities. The long awaited Atlantic City aid package is also expected to be voted on – both crucial measures for the struggling city’s economy.