Atlantic City's casinos would have to make up their minds more quickly on whether they want to bid for a new casino in northern New Jersey under a change made Thursday by state lawmakers.

dzianis miraniuk, Thinkstock

A state Senate committee amended a bill authorizing a statewide referendum on establishing casinos in northern New Jersey.

The change would give Atlantic City casinos 60 days to bid on one of the two new northern New Jersey casino licenses. They would have had six months under previous versions of the bill.

If they fail to apply after 60 days, the licenses would be thrown open to any interested bidder.

"It shortens the time frame for those concerned that the Atlantic City casinos would not show interest, or would sit back on this," said Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Bergen County Democrat whose region could host one of two new casinos envisioned under the bill.

The measure does not specify locations for the casinos, but the leading candidates thus far are the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford, and Jersey City.

The bill initially reserves both licenses for owners of existing Atlantic City casinos, but there is strong sentiment among some lawmakers to let anyone bid.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, would send half of the first $150 million in tax revenue generated by the new casinos to Atlantic City to help compensate for the expected loss of business to new in-state competition. Two percent would go to the horse racing industry, and 2 percent would go to local and county governments that host the casinos. The remainder would go to tax relief and programs for senior citizens and disabled residents statewide.

Over time, the proportion of tax money sent to Atlantic City would decrease, and the amount for seniors and the disabled would increase.

Supporters say casinos in the northern part of the state near New York City could recapture some of the gambling revenue that has gone to casinos in New York and Pennsylvania. But opponents say north Jersey casinos will decimate an Atlantic City that already is barely hanging on; four of the city's 12 casinos shut down in 2014, eliminating 8,000 jobs.

"It is going to be an economic dust bowl if this happens," said Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat from Cape May County. "This is life and death to our area. We are going to lose jobs in an area where you just can't find other jobs. People will just have to leave."

Assemblyman Chris Brown, an Atlantic City-area Republican, said the jobs that would be created by north Jersey casinos won't be enough to make up for those lost when two more Atlantic City casinos close due to in-state competition.

"In the end, you're looking at a state that just shot itself in the foot," he said.

Sarlo said New Jersey has a narrow window to claw back some of its lost gambling revenue in the years before New York approves a casino in Manhattan.

"Millions and millions of tourists come into Manhattan each day," he said. "We can attract them into New Jersey."

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The Assembly has not yet scheduled consideration of it.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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