Transition Continues for New Jersey Gambling Market
The announced shuttering of the Caesars-owned Showboat Casino in Atlantic City and proposed legislation seeking to add new casinos elsewhere in New Jersey continues the possible makeover of the New Jersey gambling industry in response to changing market conditions.
New Jersey was once -the- East Coast destination in the United States for casino-going tourists, but increased competition in neighboring states has rendered New Jersey’s casino destinations less alluring. Three decades ago, in 1976, New Jersey voters agreed to establish tourist center Atlantic City (home of the “boardwalk” of Monopoly fame”) as a casino destination. Atlantic City was the only location in New Jersey where casinos were allowed, and over the span of a couple decades, a dozen major casinos sprang up.
Atlantic City’s larger fortunes, however, didn’t fare as well. While the casinos were well serviced by trains and buses in the New York-to-Philadelphia metro corridor, airline connections to Atlantic City were always a nightmare, and driving wasn’t easy either. Besides the city’s boardwalk, there were few other tourist attractions. Add in the increased casino competition from neighboring states, and Atlantic City’s fortunes sagged. Several of the city’s casinos have been awash in red ink for years.
The closing of the Atlantic Club Casino last December began what’s expected to be a general trimming of the city’s casino options. Last week, Caesars Entertainment announced that the Showboat Atlantic City will close on Labor Day weekend. The two closures reduce Atlantic City’s casino count from 12 to 10, and another AC property, Revel, is mired in bankruptcy and may close as well. Jersey-based industry analysts believe that Atlantic City can support only eight or so casinos in the current economic climate.
New Jersey’s elected officials, though, would like to see the state retain as much East Coast casino-tourism revenue as possible. Since Atlantic City itself continues a slow fade, that raises an alternative possibility: that the state amend its laws to allow casinos everywhere, instead of just within Atlantic City.
New legislation being proposed in the state’s capitol would authorize casinos statewide, instead of just in Atlantic City. Among the possible legislation’s leaders is State Sen. Ray Lesniak, familiar to online-poker and online-gambling news followers for his major role in bringing online poker to the Garden State. Prospects for statewide casino authorization received an additional boost after receiving recent tacit endorsement from politicians not always in favor of New Jersey gambling expansions, including the state’s current governor, Republican Chris Christie.
According to a recent report at NorthJersey.com, Lesniak and other pro-casino legislators are building support for a new plan that would allow casinos anywhere in the state, rather than just in New Jersey. The currently favored plan calls for the state to authorize two new casino complexes in the northern part of the state, where they could offer even easier access for visiting New Yorkers.
Tentative backing has already emerged for a casino at the Meadowlands, where several of the state’s pro sports teams compete, while a second casino could be located at Jersey City, where a $4.6 billion casino project backed by the family that controls the Reebok shoe and clothing empire could become a reality.
Any such change in New Jersey’s existing casino laws could only occur if approved via voter referendum. The earliest such a plan could be put before the state’s electorate appears to be November of 2015.
New Jersey’s recent introduction of regulated online gambling might also fit well as a compliment to expanded land-based casino opportunities. Right now, the only regulated New Jersey sites are tied directly to existing Atlantic City casinos, while an expansion to statewide casinos could allow for more local and specialty advertising and promotion, in the process increasing overall market awareness and player traffic.