Calls are coming from both sides of the aisle as well as from unions to put the question of expanded gambling in New Jersey in front of voters in November 2016. Currently the former #2 gambling destination in the world, Atlantic City, is the only place in the state allowed to offer casino gambling.
Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and Senate have advanced bills to allow gaming to expand beyond the legendary shore city, but they have yet to come to agreement on an important issue – who will own the new casinos.
The Senate was first to introduce a bill. It would allow two casinos, owned by existing Atlantic City operators, to be built outside the city; one at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford and one in Jersey City.
Last Wednesday, Assembly Democrats introduced a competing bill that would allow one casino to be owned by an existing A.C. interest and offer a free-market license up to bid for another casino.
The two bills also offer different amounts of tax revenues to Atlantic City, a provision designed to mitigate losses to competition the city’s remaining 8 casinos may face. The Assembly bill offers less.
Tuesday December 22 saw an important deadline pass in the legislative process. One that would have required only a simple majority in two legislative sessions to place the measure on the ballot for voters to approve a change in the state’s constitution. Now it will require a three-fifths majority in the session beginning in January, making it much harder to pass.
The Senate bill is backed by Senate President Steve Sweeney and supported by at least two union leaders. Backers of both bills call their measures a compromise.
The missed legislative deadline may make it impossible for the Assembly bill to pass. Allowing one of the two casinos to be open to outsider bids, along with less money for the struggling city will be a much harder sell to lawmakers representing current Atlantic City interests. Unless compromise is reached soon the possibility of a Hard Rock Casino at The Meadowlands seems much more distant, regardless of who wants to be its champion.