Clock is ticking on NJ’s casino expansion
The deadline is in early August for the New Jersey legislature to approve a resolution asking voters, this November, if they want to amend the constitution to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City. If that doesn't happen, the question could not go on the ballot until 2016.
Passage would require 48 votes in the Assembly and 24 votes in the state Senate. One staunch advocate of the casino expansion plan said he does not want the state to wait another year.
"The window of opportunity for getting it on the ballot in 2015 is closing rapidly," said Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne). "I guess there are a few more days in here. I'm assuming that we could theoretically have this happen."
The resolution would give the legislature authority to pass laws establishing casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties if it was voter-approved. The measure is co-sponsored by Assemblymen Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) and Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood).
"Vicious competition has taken over $2 billion in taxable revenue away from the state of New Jersey," said Caputo when he and his colleagues unveiled the resolution at the Statehouse on June 1. "To survive in anything, you have to adapt. If you don't adapt, you become extinct and you become a dinosaur."
Under the proposed amendment, the state's share of revenues from the new casinos would be used for programs that help senior citizens and those with disabilities. A portion of additional revenues from North Jersey gaming would also be dedicated to subsidies for non-gaming development in Atlantic City.
"This would give us revenue creation that then would allow us to do other things like take care of Atlantic City, in terms of its transition," Rumana said, "or take care of the horse racing industry through economic growth where you're not taxing anybody anymore. You're not increasing their fees. It would just happen naturally."
The idea of casino expansion has opponents, too.
"Casino gaming in North Jersey would not only be a blow to middle class families in Atlantic County, but it would be a blow to middle-class families throughout the state," said Assemblyman Chris A. Brown (R-Linwood) when the resolution was introduced. "All of the studies indicate the only thing that gaming in North Jersey will do is cannibalize the market in Atlantic City, thus producing less money, less revenue for our seniors and disabled."
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has indicated that the issue will not be on the 2015 ballot.