After being defeated in a state-wide ballot on Tuesday, proponents of a New Jersey measure that would have expanded casino gambling outside of Atlantic City have revealed that they could now push for far more specific legislation for the north of the state.
According to a report from The Record newspaper, the New Jersey Allowance For Casinos In Two Additional Counties Amendment, which was also known as Public Question One, was defeated earlier this week after receiving only 22.32% of the vote. Had it been approved, the measure would have permitted state lawmakers to make provisions for two northern counties to have a casino each with sites in Jersey City and East Rutherford among the front-runners.
Following the defeat, New Jersey State Senator Paul Sarlo explained that a shift from a two-casino plan anywhere north of the city of New Brunswick to a one-casino concept located at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in the borough of East Rutherford could be a political winner.
The Democratic official revealed that a new one-casino ballot question may be put before New Jersey voters as early as November of 2018 and, if passed, could create thousands of temporary construction jobs alongside a similar number of more permanent positions.
“In the early stages, there were stakeholders interested in a possible casino in Middlesex [County] and Sussex [County] as well as Newark, Jersey City and the Meadowlands [Sports Complex],” Sarlo told The Record. “I think that frankly we scared off voters with a fear of the unknown of where the casinos would go. It’s the “not in my backyard” syndrome. It’s too early to tell if we should go back to the voters in two years but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it.”
New Jersey General Assembly member Ralph Caputo, a former Atlantic City casino executive, agreed with Sarlo that the backers of Public Question One had run a “terrible campaign”, which saw Paul Fireman, the former Chief Executive Officer for sportswear giant Reebok, and Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural spend around $8.6 million in support of the measure before suspending their sponsorship last month in the wake of dismal polling numbers. Fireman wanted to build the $4.6 billion Liberty Rising Resort Spa And Casino in Jersey City while Gural had planned to partner with Hard Rock International to bring a casino to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
Caputo conceded that Tuesday’s ballot question had moreover contained too little transparency including the lack of a specific tax rate and an unexplained process of how to disperse approximately $150 million a year to non-gambling redevelopment projects in Atlantic City.
However, the Democratic lawmaker reserved his harshest criticism for a provision in Public Question One that would have barred out-of-state operators from bidding for one of the new casinos while requiring an Atlantic City-based company to serve as the controlling partner.
“That suppressed the possibility of a free market of bidders,” Caputo told The Record.
Caputo added that Las Vegas billionaires such as Steve Wynn from Wynn Resorts Limited and Las Vegas Sands Corporation’s Sheldon Adelson were reportedly interested in the possibility of operating a casino in the north of New Jersey and might have spent big in funding a more effective campaign for the passage of the ballot question.
Caputo called the Meadowlands Sports Complex a “winning brand” and was joined in his support for a casino at the Bergen County facility owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports And Exposition Authority by Ron Simoncini from the NorthStarsNJ campaign, which supported the ballot question on behalf of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber Of Commerce.
“It’s inevitable that there will be a casino in the Meadowlands [Sports Complex] and there may be a market for another casino in north [New] Jersey,” Simoncini told the newspaper. “We need a neutral source to do a study on the best way forward and then we need to do that. The trouble this time was nobody got to understand the economic impact casinos would have for the region and also the fact that we are just trying to recapture the spending now going to New York and Pennsylvania. But everything was corrupted by New York casinos and the environment being filled with political mistrust.”