Despite the fact that four Atlantic City casinos have been forced to close due to neighbouring competition, New Jersey officials are considering bringing even greater choice with a potential public vote to bring new casinos to the north of the state.
The question to be put in front of voters would be whether the state Constitution should be changed to allow for up to three casinos in Bergen, Essex or Hudson counties.
SenatorRaymond Lesniak said: “We have to get this on the ballot this November. If we don’t do this now, it will never get done.”
Hard Rock International and the Meadowlands Racetrack are keen to join forces to invest in a project to the west of New York City. Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Chairman Jeff Gural believes, his proposed Hard Rock Casino at Meadowlands could generate $400m a year in tax.
He said: “This is not a fight between North Jersey and South Jersey. This is about what’s good for the state of New Jersey. Saving the horse industry is just as important as saving Atlantic City. There was no way that horse racing could succeed in New York, or ultimately New Jersey, without it being subsidized by another form of gambling.”
Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International, added: “With its close proximity to an international airport, the new casino would be designed to attract visitors from not only the 14 million adults in northern New Jersey and New York City, but also international travellers, making it a premier entertainment destination. We see an awful lot of New Jersey license plates at casinos in Pennsylvania and New York. We would love for those people to stay in state.
Blueprints are also being pieced together by investor Paul Fireman for a $4bn casino next to Liberty National Golf Course on the waterfront in Jersey City. That project, called Liberty Rising would include a 1,500 room hotel, creating 6,000 jobs.
Mr. Fireman said: “We will build our own buildings and give back to New Jersey, not the other way around. But, it is crucial that leadership in Trenton act now to get this done. We cannot wait another year. By that time, these opportunities may no longer exist.”
The plan is to fight back against New York and attract gamblers back over the Hudson River. Democrat Valerie Vainieri Huttle said: “More and more dollars are going into New York and Pennsylvania, but New Jersey is still suffering. It’s time to stop talking and listening.”
Government officials want to hold a public vote in November. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has said that if some of the tax revenue generated by the new venues could be used to boost Atlantic City then he would be in favour of the scheme.
“I certainly would be publicly supportive of getting this question done as soon as possible,” Mr. Christie said.
Republican Sam Fiocchi argued however: “Casinos in North Jersey are a bad idea, and I disagree with both Gov. Christie and the Democrats who control both the Senate and Assembly on this issue.
Deutsche Bank estimates that two casinos in northern New Jersey, close to New York, could generate more than $500m in gambling revenue.
For Ray Pocino, Head of New Jersey’s Laborers, the opportunity is all about the jobs and the improved economy. He said: “Gaming in North Jersey will create a tremendous opportunity for working families with an economic boost like the state has never seen. New Jersey will realize tens of thousands of good paying, middle-class, union construction and permanent jobs. Additionally, expanded gaming will provide millions of dollars in local and state tax revenues and hundreds of millions of dollars in support for seniors and the developmentally disabled through the Casino Revenue Fund.”