It’s June. For lawmakers who want to have a referendum on the ballot this November, it’s time to scramble.
The deadline for the state legislature to submit public questions for the November ballot is August 3rd. If lawmakers like state Senator Raymond Lesniak and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney want to have us voting on whether casino operators may build and operate casinos outside of Atlantic City this Fall, they need to do one of two things by August 3rd:
Pass it with a supermajority (60% of the vote) within one legislative session
Pass it with a simple majority (50% or greater) in two legislative sessions
The ballot measure regarding the proposed development of up to three casinos in northern New Jersey is known as the New Jersey Northern Casinos Amendment (ACR 300). In its current form, it seeks to amend the Casino Control Act to allow for up to three casinos to be built in Bergen, Essex, and Hudson counties. An undisclosed portion of the revenue from these casinos would be used to fund Atlantic City’s continuing redevelopment. Even after years of unwavering support for keeping casino gambling contained to Atlantic City, Christie recently stated that he is in favor of the referendum.
Could the Age-old Debate be Reaching Its End?
The question of amending New Jersey’s Casino Control Act to allow for casinos to be built outside of Atlantic City has been a hot topic in recent years. When the Act was first signed into law, it specified that legal casino gambling in New Jersey could only happen within Atlantic City’s borders. This worked great at the time – Atlantic City became the East Coast’s gaming hot spot. Then casinos began to open in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England, drawing North Jersey gamblers and their money out of state.
With Atlantic City struggling to keep players in New Jersey, lawmakers proposed altering the law to allow casinos to operate in the state’s densely-populated northern half. Governor Christie and South Jersey lawmakers with an interest in Atlantic City’s future pushed hard against this, and in 2011, Christie signed a moratorium on any discussion of a casino outside of Atlantic City until 2016.
Despite this moratorium, legislators are talking. Governor Christie’s campaign to revitalize Atlantic City has been a flop. By the end of 2014, Christie was ready to discuss the possibility of a North Jersey casino with the state legislature. Currently, these are two likely players:
Hard Rock Meadowlands
Earlier this month, Hard Rock casino operators Jeff Gural and Jim Allen unveiled the concept art for their proposed new resort, Hard Rock Meadowlands, at the Bergen County Business Expo at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
At the event, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, state Senators Loretta Weinberg, Raymond Lesniak, and Paul Sarlo, and Assemby Speaker Vincent Prieto gave their support for Hard Rock Meadowlands.
If ACR 300 is passed and the majority of New Jersey voters approve it next Fall, this could be the next casino to open in the Garden State. If all goes smoothly, Hard Rock’s representatives said it could be open and operating by Fall 2016.
A Casino for Jersey City
This project, currently known as “Liberty Rising,” is being kept under much tighter wraps than Hard Rock Meadowlands. Artistic renderings of the proposed resort exist, but have not yet been made available to the public. All we know right now is that this casino will likely be significantly larger than Hard Rock Meadowlands, rising to 95 stories and including much more than just a casino and hotel. Liberty Rising, which is being spearheaded by Reebok mogul Paul Fireman, would likely court a more affluent clientele than Hard Rock Meadowlands.
But Would the Voters Approve?
A recent poll showed that only 36% of New Jersey residents approve of expanding casino gambling beyond Atlantic City’s borders. Even if ACR 300 does make it to the November ballot, there’s no guarantee it will pass. First, it just has to make it through the state Senate.