As we’ve discussed here before, the debate continues to rage on over whether building a casino in North Jersey is a good idea. On one side of the debate, South Jersey lawmakers argue that such a casino would only siphon revenue from an already ailing Atlantic City. On the other side, critics make the point that Atlantic City’s rivals are New Jersey’s rivals when it comes to gambling revenue, and they’re pulling players out of New Jersey and into New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
In 2011, Governor Christie declared a moratorium on discussing the construction of a casino outside of Atlantic City until 2016. This was part of his five year plan to rejuvenate Atlantic City. Late last year, the governor changed his tune.
“It’s a conversation I’m willing to have,” he said in reference to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s proposal to begin the discussion of bringing a casino to North Jersey, possibly involving a November 2015 ballot question about it for voters.
“This was always going to happen,” said State Senator Paul Sarlo, a democrat from Wood-Ridge, “it was just a matter of time.”
We will see a casino in North Jersey in our lifetime. That’s a fact. The real question is where it will be built. Northern New Jersey is among the most densely populated parts of the country. Land here is expensive and, especially in northeastern New Jersey, difficult to come by. Proponents of a casino project have suggested various sites around the upper half of the state, each offering unique challenges and benefits.
Jersey City is a strong candidate for New Jersey’s first casino outside Atlantic City for a number of reasons. The first, perhaps the most obvious, is its proximity to New York City. Jersey City is only a short PATH ride from the greatest metropolis of the western hemisphere.
“We’re closest to Manhattan. A casino here would be the highest grossing in North America, bigger than any Las Vegas casino,” said Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop said in The Record.
The other is that it’s rapidly gentrifying. Jersey City’s waterfront is currently undergoing a renaissance and having a tourist attraction along the Hudson’s banks would only spur this renaissance further. Jersey City is hip. People want to be there. And in the tourism and recreation industry, you’ve got to be where the people want to be.
The Meadowlands is the other obvious choice for North Jersey’s first casino. This option has been discussed to death. It’s the one everybody knows about–the one that’s gotten the biggest cut of the ongoing discussion. And for good reason. As we’ve discussed before, the Meadowlands is an activity hub for its region. It’s right off three major highways, nestled in one of the densest places in the United States. Heck, it’s even got a resort-sized complex more or less ready to inhabit, just standing there in limbo. And it’s all a mere thirty minute train ride from Manhattan.
This is Sarlo’s goal. He wants to completely redevelop the Meadowlands into a destination with sports, shopping, and entertainment. Earlier this month, Governor Christie signed the Hackensack Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act, which merged the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to create the Meadowlands Regional Commission.
By placing control of Liberty State Park into his new commission’s hands, the governor opened the previously-protected land to private development. And that’s the problem. The Meadowlands is home to a fragile ecosystem. Academics and environmentalists alike have decried the governor’s decision and called for a revision to the bill. Moving forward with a Meadowlands casino would not only be difficult due to the backlash, but potentially disastrous for one of New Jersey’s most endangered biomes.
Other Options in New Jersey
Jersey City and the Meadowlands aren’t the only proposed homes for a new casino. Individuals and lawmakers have pitched sites across the state, such as Newark, Secaucus, Monmouth Racetrack, and sites in Morris county. Like the aforementioned proposals, these all have their pros and cons.
Although Monmouth Racetrack seems like an easy choice because of the racetrack, it’s too close to Atlantic City. The two are only about eighty miles apart, which is approximately a 1.5 hour ride on the Garden State Parkway. It’s not distinct enough from Atlantic City to be a draw on its own.
A casino in Newark could be a great thing for the developing city, but there’s one major drawback: it’s a city. It’s built up, roads and their traffic patterns are in place, and the issue of simply finding a spot where a resort would physically fit, then developing that land would be a headache. Newark’s not like Jersey City – it’s moving forward, but it’s nowhere near the point that Jersey City has reached in recent years.
Secaucus? Maybe it could work. It’s right off the turnpike. NJ Transit’s train hub is there. But Secaucus lacks the lustre of a Jersey City or even an Atlantic City. It’s suburbia. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing especially appealing about it. It’s just kind of there.
Then there’s the western half of North Jersey. Morris county, Hunterdon county, Warren and Sussex counties could all be great spots for a casino.
What This Means for New Jersey
It means new jobs created in the wake of all the jobs lost in Atlantic City. The dealers, cocktail servers, technicians, and hotel staff who have been displaced by the closures would have the opportunity to follow their industry north and secure work in their field. A casino in North Jersey would also mean jobs for construction companies, livery drivers, maintenance workers, and the peripheral industries like food service and public transit. It can also create an immense opportunity for investors, giving them the chance to invest in New Jersey. This revenue would also be nothing but a boon to the state’s struggling gaming industry. And that, regardless of where it occurs, would be a great thing for all of New Jersey.