TRENTON — New Jersey voters have rejected the public ballot question that would have allowed casinos to open in North Jersey.

Question 1 went down to an overwhelming defeat 80 percent  to 20 percent with half of the votes counted.

"We are glad to see the overwhelming support across New Jersey opposing casino expansion," said Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton's Bad Bet, which campaigned against the measure. "We attribute our success to a broad coalition of community leaders, unions, small businesses and residents who are convinced that North Jersey casinos would be a detriment to the entire state."

New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes said of the vote: "New Jersey voters have responded wisely with their overwhelming rejection of the proposed constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling. Proponents and their legislative allies said casino expansion was a sure bet for economic growth, saving Atlantic City and more. But their campaign was built on big promises that ordinary New Jerseyans ultimately — and thankfully — realized were empty promises."

"Today's vote is an important step for Atlantic City's return to becoming a world class resort," said Morris Bailey, owner, Resorts Hotel Casino. "On behalf of the 30,000 employees and their families that rely on the Atlantic City casino industry, we are gratified by the overwhelming defeat of this initiative."

The group spent a record $21 million in advocating a "no" vote.

Polling prior to election day showed voters had overwhelming been against the proposal. Supporters of the question, spearheaded by Our Turn NJ, stopped its advertising over the summer.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by tonight’s result. We have seen for some time now that the people of New Jersey were unhappy with the lack of details on this issue. We do not view the failure to pass Question #1 as a rejection of gaming expansion, but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them," Our Turn NJ founders Paul Fireman and Jeff Gural said in a statement.

Oceanport Borough Council President Joseph Irace said the question, even if it had passed, was doomed to fail.

"Unfortunately, when the powers that be in Trenton got together and crafted this referendum not only was it poorly worded but it specifically leaves Monmouth Park out by saying (any new casino) has to be 72 miles from Atlantic City. Monmouth Park is 69 miles as the crow flies."

"Our argument was if you're going to put the casino up north, that's fine as long as there's a percentage that gets kicked back to horse racing this way we preserve our gaming revenue. They were throwing around numbers like 10 percent and 20 percent at one point coming back to horse racing, but when they wrote the referendum it shows 2 percent of the 40 percent part going to seniors. So you're looking at a very, very, very small percentage going back to Monmouth park and thoroughbred racing."

Irace still favors expanding gaming in New Jersey but gamblers want "convenience gaming." He said people want to drive a half-hour, do their gaming and then go home, citing the failed Revel casino as an example of the "failed Atlantic City plan:"

"Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland. They all have casinos at their racetracks," citing the Parx casino at the former Philadelphia Park racetrack in Bucks County as an example.  "It's one giant gaming facility right off the highway within a stone's throw of New Jersey. Why not put just put casinos at the racetracks?" Irace asked. "Why make this whole rigamarole of putting billion dollar casinos in spots where there are no established gaming places? There's already bets being taken at Monmouth Park for horses. There's infrastructure in place" and it would be a quick process to add slot machines to the park.

Irace looks to a new governor and legislative leadership to change the state's gaming strategy to more of a "New Jersey versus the other states" instead of North Jersey vs. South Jersey. "When the leadership starts to shift and they see how much money is out there for something outside of Atlantic City I think you're going to see more legislators come to the table."

Ballot Question No. 1 vote totals (unofficial results, most districts reporting, as of 1 a.m. Wednesday)

STATE TOTAL730,3492,009,659
CAPE MAY33,0023,527

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