By Desirée Taylor
It’s a baby step but an Assembly Committee today OK-ed exploring a controversial idea, building a casino in North Jersey. Supporters say it’s significant because in the past South Jersey legislators shot down the idea – afraid that the increased competition would further decimate Atlantic City’s struggling gaming industry. But the bill’s sponsor is betting the potential financial benefits of bringing gaming to Bergen County will win over the naysayers.
“Deutch Bank had a study two years ago that said a Bergen County casino could produce a billion for the state. So it’s the most valuable piece of real estate on eastern seaboard that’s being ignored,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.
“It sits in the shadows of America’s largest city, number one media center, demographics strong. It’s an important part of this state’s economy,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli.
But South Jersey Republican Assemblyman John Amodeo voted against the bill. He thinks it’s too early to consider expanding gaming in New Jersey because it could undermine what he sees as progress in Atlantic City since the governor implemented a five year plan to help revitalize the gaming resort.
“We created a tourism district, we brought CRDA under an umbrella. All that has been very successful, lot happening in the positive. Why change that now,” said Amodeo.
Atlantic City casino revenues were up more than three percent in October compared to October 2012 but that’s because superstorm Sandy shut down the casinos last year. Overall gaming revenues declined in recent years as neighboring states continue to open casinos.
“Pennsylvania, for example, has moved their gaming destinations out of one location. They’re destroying us, they’re second in the United States,” Caputo said, “They just passed a constitutional amendment in New York to open seven casinos. If this continues they’ll be no market to go there. So we’ve got to deal with this a number of ways.”
“Our non-gaming revenues exceed all expectations. Casino gambling is going to be what it is because of competition. You’re not going to improve on revenue if you expand it,” said Amodeo.
If the bill passes both houses, a 13 member commission will be formed. It will issue a report that will likely include recommendations that will be submitted to the governor in about a year.