By Brenda Flanagan
Take wo posh brand-new casinos and put one next to the Meadowlands racetrack and near the Liberty National Golf Course overlooking the statue and the skyline. It could happen if New Jerseyans vote to expand casino gaming beyond Atlantic City to northern New Jersey.
“And we would have a gem — a worldwide gem that would put New Jersey on the map worldwide as a destination place. It would outshine Macau,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.
That’s Lesniak’s gilded vision of opening casinos in northern New Jersey — and he’s not alone.
“The market in North Jersey/New York is supporting other areas. And for us to compete with these other destinations in Pennsylvania and New York, we’re gonna have to open up up here,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.
“So let’s have a conversation about it. See if it makes sense. What happens with AC? What do we do to help support AC, if we expand gaming to other parts of the state?” asked Gov. Chris Christie.
When he called for a five-year moratorium on casino expansion, Christie had hoped Atlantic City’s monopoly would help jump-start its struggling casino industry. Instead of galvanizing the marketplace, Revel slid into Chapter 11 — twice. The Atlantic Club closed and Caesars says it will scuttle Showboat next month.
“Every delay means loss of revenues, loss of jobs, more decline in Atlantic City. So I’m pleased the governor and Sen. [Steve] Sweeney have opened up the door to this,” Lesniak said.
Among the so-called stakeholders — the casino workers’ union, Local 54. It’s fighting to keep Showboat open, and save 2,500 jobs. President Bob McDevitt’s take on a northern expansion?
“A casino in the Meadowlands — if it was properly conceived — could complement Atlantic City casinos in revenues and taxes. If it’s poorly conceived, or if there’s more than one casino, it would eat away at the market base and cost more jobs,” he said.
“Frankly we would love to try to work with them,” said Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural.
Gural wants to fast-track a referendum and open a casino in East Rutherford before New York brings four more casinos online. He wants to help Atlantic City, too.
“Maybe we could take some of the money we would be paying in taxes and using it to help AC because clearly there are a lot of jobs at stake. I don’t want to put Atlantic City out of business,” Gural said.
When asked where the casinos will be, Caputo said, “Well, that will be up to the people. That’s why we need a referendum. And we should put a number of options on the ballot so people can make that choice.”
Another point to discuss: whether to put that referendum on the ballot in 2015 or push hard to float it this November.