N.J. casino expansion referendum authorization near

Mar 14, 2016 10:52 AM

New Jersey voters would be asked in November whether to approve two new casinos in the northern part of the state under a ballot question expected to be authorized by the state Legislature.

The state Senate and Assembly will vote Monday afternoon on a bill that would authorize the ballot question to ask voters whether they want to approve two casinos in separate counties at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.

The ballot question does not specify locations, but the most frequently mentioned sites are at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, and in Jersey City.

Supporters say the new casinos will recapture gambling money that’s now going to casinos in neighboring states, but opponents fear they could lead to the closure of two or more of Atlantic City’s remaining eight casinos.

The state Senate and Assembly will vote on the bill Monday afternoon.

Here are some of the key details of the proposal:

WHY?

New Jersey’s Constitution currently allows casino gambling only in Atlantic City. A constitutional amendment would be required to change this. A similar statewide referendum in 1976 authorized casino gambling in Atlantic City. Resorts, the nation’s first casino outside Nevada, opened there in 1978.

WHERE?

The ballot question does not specify where the casinos would be located. That and other key details, such as the tax rate that the new casinos would pay, would be left to so-called “enabling legislation” to be passed by state lawmakers, either before or after the November referendum. State Senate President Steve Sweeney will not commit to setting a tax rate before the public votes on the ballot question.

WHO?

Owners of existing Atlantic City casinos would have first crack at the new casino licenses. If they fail to apply within 60 days, the new licenses would be thrown open to anyone.

The new casinos would have to cost at least $1 billion apiece.

WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?

Tax revenue from the two new casinos would be split between a fund to revitalize Atlantic City and for programs and tax relief for senior citizens and the disabled. Two percent would go to the state’s horse racing industry and to municipalities and counties that host the new casinos.

As years go by, the amount going to Atlantic City would decrease as the amount going to the other programs increases.

WHO WINS?

Winners would include casino companies who get access to one of the world’s most lucrative gambling markets, construction trades whose workers will build the casinos, employees who will staff them, and local governments who will receive host community benefits. The horse racing industry has long wanted to be able to offer gambling at tracks as neighboring states do; the 2 percent subsidy would help the industry. Atlantic City revitalization aid would probably be administered by a nonprofit board, but could not be used to help the city’s budget or debt.

WHO LOSES?

Atlantic City will undoubtedly be hurt if there are suddenly new casinos within the state’s borders. Elected officials, business leaders and some analysts say from two to four of Atlantic City’s eight remaining casinos could close when faced with in-state competition. And without knowing what tax rate the state will impose, it is impossible to calculate whether the money coming to help Atlantic City will be more than the amount lost when its casinos lose business to their new competitors, or shut down altogether.

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