On January 7 a public hearing will be held in Trenton on one of two competing plans to offer New Jersey voters the option to authorize two new casinos in the northern part of the state.

The hearing at the Capital will be held by a state Assembly committee on a proposed referendum on the expansion of casino gambling beyond Atlantic City. So far neither house of the state Legislature has been able to agree on a measure. A public hearing was held for the Senate’s version, which would require that an existing Atlantic City operator own both of the new casinos. Only one of the new casino licenses would have to be awarded to an AC operator with the Assembly version. A decision as to which version to put before voters has yet to be reached, according to Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

Since last week’s amendment, there have been no changes to the proposed referendum. Both bills are similar in that Atlantic City’s remaining 8 casinos would be compensated for loss of business, anticipated from in-state competition, through gambling tax revenue from the new casinos. They do differ however, in just how much Atlantic City would receive, and how much of that would go towards funding programs and tax relief for the disabled and senior citizens throughout the state.

Currently, the state Constitution restricts casinos to Atlantic City, so expanding them to other areas of New Jersey would require an amendment to the Constitution. While voters won’t be deciding on which specific cities the casinos would be built in, The Meadowlands in East Rutherford and Jersey City are the two most talked about locations.

An important deadline in the legislative process passed on Tuesday December 22 when the hearing was held. The only requirement was that a majority in two legislative sessions place the measure on the ballot so that voters cold approve a change to the state’s constitution. That didn’t happen and now a three-fifths majority will be required in the session beginning in January.