Will Legal Sports Betting Give New Vigor To The North Jersey Casino Movement?

Updated on May 28, 2018
North Jersey casino

Don’t bet on casino gambling suddenly coming to North Jersey just because sports betting may be.

In fact, legal and regulated sports betting in New Jersey will likely do very little to reinvigorate the North Jersey casino movement that died in 2016. One that would have allowed two casinos to be built outside of Atlantic City.

The 1976 law that made casino gambling legal in New Jersey restricted casinos to inside Atlantic City.

Lawmakers behind the idea of a gambling expansion managed to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016, which would have changed that.

The New Jersey casino expansion amendment asked voters to approve amending the state constitution to permit casino gambling in two additional counties. Only one casino would be permitted in each of the two counties, and they would need to be located in a town at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.

Hard Rock Casino at Meadowlands

The question on the ballot did not specify where the two new casinos would be located or who would own them. However, it is widely believed one would have been the $1 billion casino Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural and Hard Rock International proposed building at The Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford in 2015.

Planned for an area that already included MetLife Stadium, home of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets, and the Meadowlands Racetrack harness racing facility, the proposed casino would have featured 5,000 slots and 200 gaming tables.

Developers also proposed to include 10 restaurants, a Hard Rock Live showroom, a New Jersey Music Hall of Fame and a music memorabilia museum featuring pieces from Hard Rock’s world-renowned collection.

Hard Rock and Meadowlands said the casino would generate as much as $400 million in annual tax revenues for the state. Plus, it would help stop North Jersey residents from going outside the state to gamble. Particularly in a growing number of casinos being built in neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania.

However, it was not to be.

Opponents claimed at least half of Atlantic City’s casino industry would be bankrupted by allowing the construction of new casinos up north.

Ultimately, the amendment was defeated in the November 2016 election by a lopsided vote of 2,400,081 to 707,064. This killed any and all plans for casinos in North Jersey for the foreseeable future.

NJ sports betting = new revenue

However, it didn’t stop Meadowlands Racetrack from seeking out new revenue streams. In fact, the property is now in line for a revenue boost of a different kind. One that may make up part of what it lost when the New Jersey casino expansion amendment was defeated.

It may not be anywhere near the size of the revenue boost casino gambling was likely to create. However, it’s far better than nothing.

On May 14, the US Supreme Court released a decision striking down the federal law that made sports betting illegal almost everywhere outside of Nevada. Ultimately, the decision confirmed New Jersey’s right to pass a law authorizing casinos and racetracks in the state to start taking bets on sports.

The court determined states should have a choice when it comes to sports betting. A move that opened the door to legal and regulated sports gambling across the country.

State lawmakers are now scrambling to put together regulations to govern the New Jersey sports betting market. However, it’s clear that Atlantic City casinos and the state’s three horse racing facilities will be the first allowed to open up and operate sportsbooks.

New revenue streams are of interest to Meadowlands. It is likely to open up a sportsbook of its own sooner rather than later.

But don’t expect this latest gambling expansion in the state to suddenly renew the push for more.

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Is the North Jersey casino movement dead?

In fact, at the end of 2017, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the North Jersey casino movement is pretty much dead.

Considering the lopsided vote, Sweeney said he doesn’t expect legislators to ask voters to approve the measure ever again. It was, after all, the largest margin of defeat for any referendum ever held in the state of New Jersey.

The earliest lawmakers could get the question back on the ballot is November 2018. However, there has been little or no discussion aimed at doing such a thing.

Gov. Phil Murphy has come out in support of a gambling expansion to North Jersey. Plus, Gural has long claimed he will not give up on the plan — even if it takes five years or more to get approval. However, Sweeney just began a two-year term as NJ Senate president and said it won’t happen while he’s in charge.

Sweeney said he can’t stop other lawmakers from trying to resurrect the plan. However, he doesn’t think any of them will.

Considering tracks such as the Meadowlands have now been pacified by at least part of the revenue boost they expected coming through sports betting.

The need for new revenue streams for racetracks is less desperate, leaving the North Jersey casino movement with little or no momentum behind it.

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