Chance of New Jersey casino vote dims

Jan 9, 2016 9:19 AM

“What a mess.”

That was Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural describing the very real possibility that New Jersey voters may be shut out of having a chance to vote this year on casinos in the northern part of the state.

Leading lawmakers from either end of the state appeared to be nowhere near a compromise this past week on issues such as whether either of the two proposed casinos should go to companies already operating in Atlantic City.

The issue could go to voters in November if a bill is approved with a simple majority before the current session concludes Monday. Another vote would be required later this year in the next session. Or, a three-fifths majority on one vote could send the issue directly to the November ballot, but that does not appear likely.

Gov. Chris Christie, who has recently been busy with effort to secure the GOP nomination for president, stepped into the dispute saying it is “disturbing that infighting” over competing gaming bills may deprive the voters of the chance to consider the question in November.”

Backers of the Assembly plan would only require one of the two proposed projects to be owned by a current Atlantic City operator. Senate President Steve Sweeney’s proposal would require that both casinos in northern New Jersey a short distance from Manhattan be owned by existing Atlantic City operators.

Sources familiar with Sweeney’s thinking believe the intent of the Assembly bill is to clear the way for Steve Wynn to get one of the two licenses. It is easy to imagine Wynn being interested in the chance to build close to New York, but there are factors other than location that go into determining what is or is not an attractive opportunity.

Gural has said a survey commissioned for his company and Hard Rock International, which would run a Meadowland’s casino, found 83 percent of respondents oppose limiting the licenses for new casinos to existing operators.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].