By Brenda Flanagan
“So basically it was doomed,” said Jeff Gural.
And that’s why Gural decided to cash in his chips on the North Jersey casino ballot question. Gural owns the Meadowlands and a couple New York racinos — figured he’d gamble on backing two new casinos in North Jersey. One — the Hard Rock — has been promoted for Gural’s own Meadowlands complex.
The other proposed casino — Paul Fireman’s Liberty Rising — was destined for Jersey City. Fireman and Gural’s PR campaign — called Our Turn — promised voters that two new casinos could generate $500 million for seniors and rescue floundering Atlantic City from financial crisis.
“When is it our turn New Jersey to protect our seniors?” asks an ad.
Compare that to opposition ads by Trenton’s Bad Bet: “Willing to roll the dice on your family’s future? Trenton politicians want to risk putting two casinos into North Jersey.”
“The public really doesn’t trust Trenton. And that’s catchy,” Gural said.
Gural says the opposition’s ads — powered by money from New York’s Aqueduct and the Malaysian Genting Group — swayed public opinion. A Rutgers Eagleton poll this week showed 58 percent oppose the ballot question, 35 percent approve. Our Turn’s internal polls showed 50 percent of New Jerseyans opposed, only 37 percent approved.
“We’re getting clobbered. We were outspent. I think it was a clever marketing thing. So, I think in all honesty, once they embarked on that approach it resonated with the people,” Gural said.
“New Jerseyans are just much more negative than they used to be when it comes to these kinds of issues. They don’t think casino gambling makes much of a difference to the state, or provides much benefit for the state,” said Ashley Koning, interim director for the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
Trenton’s Bad Bet admits it’s a battle for market share.
“We have a diverse group of funders here that are involved, certainly, just like the other side: you have two New York developers that are coming in and playing in New Jersey. So clearly a lot of people have a lot at stake here,” said Trenton’s Bad Bet Executive Director Bill Cortese.
No more so, perhaps, than Atlantic City, which would receive the lion’s share of revenues generated from northern casinos, but which bitterly opposed losing its monopoly on casino gaming in New Jersey saying it would cannibalize the marketplace.
“The protectionist attitude or philosophy about AC has not been helpful. And I don’t criticize Gural or Fireman. I think they should’ve had a willing partner in the yes vote, which they didn’t have,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.
“This is the end of Atlantic City. This, the failure of this, dooms them. They’re done. They’re just too stupid to figure it out,” Gural said.
Gural’s Our Turn signs will sit, stacked in his office, the ad campaign suspended. The Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce will advertise but knows it’s very long odds.
“We actually didn’t see it coming. We thought there was always a possibility the poll numbers wouldn’t continue to improve but this is really disappointing. As an organization we feel that expanding gaming outside of New Jersey is a good policy for New Jersey,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Kirkos.
The yes vote lobby does have one big name, who promised to help them out, if they asked him: Gov. Chris Christie. And the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce did in fact ask Christie to help. That was 10 days ago. They haven’t heard back from him yet.