Casino Expansion Advocates Fear Future of Horse Racing in NJ

By Michael Hill

At Winners in Bayonne, Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural predicted losing on Nov. 8.

“The way I see it we’re going to lose. We should have never lost. We had a lousy campaign,” Gural said.

Twenty days before the vote, a blunt message from Gural to the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.

Gural says expanding casinos to northern New Jersey and to racetracks would save the state’s horse racing industry and its 14,000 jobs.

“Horse racing won’t survive if these Atlantic City guys want to keep plugging away and keep telling people that there shouldn’t be casinos in the north then there will be no open space, there will be no horse racing, those jobs are gone,” Gural said.

Gural says public opinion polling makes it seem all but certain that voters will reject expanding casinos to the north and the projected millions of revenue dollars going to rescue Atlantic City.

“This legislation was designed to save Atlantic City but they’re so stupid that they didn’t figure that out and they’re so greedy. And these people listen to these stupid politicians that they have down there who say, ‘Oh! It’s going to destroy Atlantic City!’ It’s going to save Atlantic City.

Gural says companies have used their Atlantic City casino profits to build competing casinos out of state. A Meadowlands casino would be within 50 miles of 14 million people and Gural is or was so confident of its success he offered to give the state $500 million a year to bail out AC.

Is that almost like a guarantee?

“I’d be willing to guarantee it. I have no problem guaranteeing. No one ever asked me,” said Gural.

Has Assemblyman Ralph Caputo given up on the ballot issue on casinos?

“Not at all,” he said.

Caputo is a former casino company executive and he supports expansion. According to one published report, he has a backup plan that includes video lottery terminals at racetracks if the casino expansion issue fails.

“I’ve been interested in that, but I’d rather hold that for a future discussion. That’s something we can look at as an alternative, but I want to concentrate on what’s in the best interest of the people at this point,” Caputo said.

Both Caputo and Gural applaud the expansion opponents of capitalizing on the state failing to reform public pensions, address school funding and until this month fixing the Transportation Trust Fund.

“So when you look at the pattern that comes out of Trenton and the ideas that come out of Trenton it’s failure after failure after failure. People have seen this episode before, they know about the promises that are made and really they’re empty at the end of the day. So they saw right through the smoke screen and I think people saw through and that’s why you see the numbers where they are,” said Executive Director of Trenton’s Bad Bet Bill Cortese.

The state’s election law enforcement commission [ELEC] reports record spending on the issue as of last Friday — with opponents Trenton’s Bad Bet outspending supporters Our Turn New Jersey by three million dollars.

The commission’s chief says, “We expected big spending on this issue, and the first wave of disclosure reports bear that out. I still wouldn’t be surprised if final spending approaches $40 million.”

The big supporters of casino expansion outside Atlantic City for the most part have suspended their advertising campaign. But not the folks on the other side.

“We won’t comment on specific spending but again we’re going to be very aggressive,” Cortese said.

Casino expansion opponents are taking nothing for granted while supporters seem to have thrown in the cards hoping the results are at the least respectably close.