With Atlantic City's casino market struggling, the allure of a casino just outside New York City is becoming stronger to some.

Meadowlands Racetrack (Meadowlands)

At a regional gambling conference Tuesday in Atlantic City, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo said casino in the Meadowlands is the way to recapture gambling money the state is currently losing.

"A casino in north Jersey, to be taxed at 50 or 60 percent, we could do a billion dollars a year in that location," said Caputo, a northern New Jersey Democrat. "We've got to be fighting for those customers. That's what Pennsylvania is doing. That's what New York wants to do. We've got to beat New York to the punch."

Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat from Cape May County, just south of Atlantic City, said the state made a promise to restrict casino gambling only to Atlantic City.

He called Caputo a bright, articulate businessman who is right 99 percent of the time. "But when he's wrong, he's really wrong," Van Drew said.

"We have to stop talking about the Meadowlands," Van Drew said. "The Meadowlands would cannibalize the industry; the Meadowlands will just further split that gambling pie and hurt Atlantic City."

Gov. Chris Christie has said he will give Atlantic City five years to show serious signs of improvement before he will consider asking voters to approve casinos elsewhere in the state. That clock started ticking with the February 2011 enactment of a state-administered tourism district in Atlantic City.

Christie's Atlantic City plan included the tourism district, which was designed to bring additional safety and cleanliness resources; relief from some costly regulations for casinos; and $30 million a year from casinos to market Atlantic City.

Legislators in northern New Jersey have long wanted a casino at the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford. With Atlantic City mired in a revenue plunge of more than seven years, calls for a so-called "northern option" are growing stronger.

Oliver Cooke, an economics professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, said Atlantic City's near-term future remains challenging. He said the casino market needs to continue "right-sizing," the sooner the better. Atlantic City currently has 11 casinos following the January shutdown of the Atlantic Club.

Anthony Faranca, who began his casino career in Atlantic City and is now general manager of Pennsylvania's Parx Casino, agreed.

"My heart is in Atlantic City, but clearly there is oversaturation in this market," he said. "Even if it does turn the corner, I think there's too much capacity in this great city. There are some tough decisions that have to be made."

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said New Jersey will eventually talk about expanding casinos beyond Atlantic City.

"Before we start talking about cannibalizing this city, let's get it strong so when we do expand, it will be a plus," Sweeney said.

He also said he would not allow consideration of a bill restricting a new casino to any one specific place.

"It will be a discussion about where it fits, and where the market works," he said.

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