Officials Discuss Building Casinos in North Jersey

By Brenda Flanagan

“We don’t want to be where AC is now,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jim Kirkos.

They met to chat about building new casinos in North Jersey — a huge entertainment complex in the Meadowlands. But business leaders and politicians often referenced Atlantic City, with its four failing casinos and a gaming industry that’s collapsing into a financial quagmire.

Speakers made it the poster child for how not to develop gaming.

“Clearly, Atlantic City in its heyday made a ton of money, and they took it out of the state. Nobody fixed the social ills and wills of what’s going on in AC,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

The persistent crime and blight helped drive people and business away from Atlantic City, said Sarlo. Speakers noted the new casinos proposed last week by the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce need to grab customers who left Atlantic City behind because they’re not going back.

“To think that I have to drive down three hours, three and a half hours to AC, it’s like — ugh,” said Assemblywoman Marlene Caride.

“New York City is eight miles from this site,” said Axiom Communications President Ron Simoncini.

Millions of potential customers can easily access the Meadowlands by train, or in traffic. The vision expands and transforms the current site — now anchored by MetLife Stadium, the racetrack, IZOD Center and American Dream. Plans include 250,000 square feet of casino gaming, a modern convention center, 2,000 new hotel rooms and thousands of new parking spaces — all tied together by a monorail.

“We need a massive, massive template for that,” said Simoncini. “So what we’ve done is created four casino districts within this site. Those four casino districts within the site are expected to generate 30,000 to 40,000 people on a good day.”

Proponents want to move fast because New York’s slated to award four new casino gaming licenses this fall.

“And don’t make any mistake, Gov. Cuomo has got his eye on the ball and if we are not careful, there will be a casino just across the border just north of us,” Kirkos said.

Kirkos welcomes input from the current Meadowlands franchises. As for Gov. Chris Christie, “With just his red pen he can squash plans,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer. “We need the governor on board. Whatever the governor’s future plans are notwithstanding.”

Proponents of this grand vision admit it won’t fly unless the major agree to work together without the squabbles and lengthy lawsuits that plagued prior projects. They’re looking over their shoulders afraid New York might be gaining on them.