New Jersey Voters Say No to Casino Expansion

So, how has your week been? Mine’s been interesting; I’m sure yours has, too. Obviously, the topic that has dominated conversation the last couple days is that a person endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan is going to be President of the United States in about two months. But let’s not forget that in addition to choosing a Vice President who said in 2000 that “smoking doesn’t kill,” U.S. citizens had loads of referenda on which to vote. The legalization of marijuana in multiple states got the most headlines, but of interest to us at a poker and gambling news website was the vote on whether or not casino gambling should be expanded outside of Atlantic City in New Jersey. According to voters on November 8th, the answer was a resounding “No.”

The “New Jersey Allowance for Casinos in Two Additional Counties Amendment,” or Public Question 1, lost in a landslide, 2,201,768 “No” votes to 633,034 “Yes” votes. More than three-quarters of voters did not want to see casino gambling expanded outside of Atlantic City.

When casino gambling was approved in 1976 in another referendum (56.5 percent of voters said yes), it legalized the construction of casinos in New Jersey, but restricted them to Atlantic City. For a while, Atlantic City was the gambling mecca of the US’s east coast, looking like it would rival Las Vegas in the west. But in the last decade or so, New Jersey gambling revenues have plummeted, partially because of an economic downturn, but also because neighboring states have grown gambling industries of their own. Casinos in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York have all drawn customers away from Atlantic City.

New JerseyThus, the push by some lawmakers to expand the casino industry into northern New Jersey. Atlantic City is in the southern part of the state and is therefore a healthy drive for many people in the northern part of the state. Those people have opted to make the shorter drive to casinos in other states, rather than make the hike to Atlantic City.

The amendment would have required the two new casinos to be built at least 72 miles away from Atlantic City. The first option for licenses would have gone to the existing Atlantic City operators, but licensing would have opened up to other companies if the state didn’t receive any adequate proposals. Some of the tax revenue from the two casinos would have gone to help Atlantic City’s recovery; for the first seventeen fiscal years, as much as $200 million would have flowed to Atlantic City. After that, the number would gradually decrease, going down to $42 million or less after 26 years.

Clearly, the opposition to the amendment was strong. There were two groups who fought against the amendment: Trenton’s Bad Bet and the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition. According to Ballotpedia, Trenton’s Bad Bet raised $13.7 million, $8.207 million of which was from Genting New York LLC, owner of Resorts World Casino in New York. The next two biggest donors were also New York gaming companies: Empire Resorts, Inc. ($1.955 million) and Yonkers Racing Corporation ($1.5 million). It is pretty clear that those organizations did not want more competition nearby. Jemb Resorts LLC, a holding company for Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino, and Paulette Bailey, the wife of Resorts Casino’s owner, contributed a combined $2 million.

The PAC supporting the amendment was Our Turn NJ, founded by former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman and Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural. Both wanted to build casinos in northern New Jersey. The two combined to contribute about $10 million to Our Turn NJ. They stopped feeding money into the PAC in late September when polls were indicating that the referendum had no chance (but hey, nobody thought Donald Trump had a chance and now he’s going to be our next Presid… urgvomitcry).

NJ.com reports, as one might guess based on the previous paragraph, that Fireman and Gural were “disappointed but not surprised” by the outcome.

“We do not view the failure to pass Question No. 1 as a rejection of gaming expansion but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them,” they said.

“New Jersey has to start from the beginning on gaming expansion. What the people of this state need to see is a transparent, competitive plan that outlines in full detail how gaming expansion would work.”

In a statement last month, Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet, said, “For years, Trenton politicians have made promises they could not keep, leaving taxpayers holding the bag when their schemes failed. Casino expansion into North Jersey is another scheme backed by Trenton insiders who continue to put the needs of deep-pocketed, special interests over the residents of New Jersey.”

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