North Jersey casino question may be dealt record-setting defeat
It has already obliterated the record for spending on a New Jersey ballot question, but polls show the proposal to allow two casinos in North Jersey might make history in another way Tuesday: The most overwhelming defeat of a statewide ballot question in the Garden State.
Results from the latest Stockton University poll released Friday showed 71 percent of likely voters oppose the constitutional amendment, with 24 percent in favor and 5 percent undecided.
Proponents of casino expansion shelved their $8.6 million advertising campaign six weeks ago in the face of certain defeat, while opponents have still spent $15.5 million. Opponents of the plan hope that an electoral rout would mean the proposal would not be revised or retried down the road.
“I can’t be in the minds of the legislators who support this issue, but hopefully a large plurality against Ballot Question 1 would give pause to rethinking this idea and putting it back on the ballot in two years,” said Debra DiLorenzo, chairwoman of the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, said he hopes voters support the plan Tuesday – “You never know, you may catch lightning in a bottle,” he said – but that a loss wouldn’t be a permanent setback for the idea, even if the margin is large.
“I don’t think so,” Prieto said. “Just like with (approving gaming in) Atlantic City, it failed the first time because it wasn’t done properly. It was done statewide. People were scared. They were saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be in your backyard. This is going to be a problem.’ Then you narrow it to where it should be.”
“It’s up to the voters,” he said. “If not, it needs to be retooled and maybe then come back again at another time.”
Since the approval of New Jersey’s modern constitution in 1947, there have been 190 statewide ballot questions. Thirty-nine lost. The biggest defeat was suffered in 1987, when a proposal to borrow $185 million to build a Major League Baseball stadium in the Meadowlands got 33 percent of the vote.
Now another Meadowlands-focused ballot question may get even less support. While the proposal doesn’t say where the two North Jersey casinos would go, developers who would like to build casinos in East Rutherford and Jersey City were funding the vote-yes advertising campaign.
Prieto said a Meadowlands casino makes sense. He said the district has more than 10,000 hotel rooms that are, on average, 80 percent to 90 percent occupied. Also, a rail line now stops at the Meadowlands, as well.
“If you had an entertainment destination there that included gaming, they would visit it,” Prieto said. “That would be astronomical for the revenues that could come into the state.”
DiLorenzo, who is president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said a study commissioned by Resorts Casino Hotel shows North Jersey casinos would devastate her region’s economy. One-third of casinos closed in the face of competition that was further away.
“If you vote in favor of expanding gaming, how does that help our state if three to five casinos would close and up to 30,000 people would lose their jobs? And the answer is it doesn’t,” DiLorenzo said.
Four Atlantic City casinos closed in 2014, and another – Trump Taj Mahal, which was already troubled and then was hit by a months-long labor strike – was shuttered last month.
But DiLorenzo said the city’s casino industry is “poised for growth.” She said the industry’s EBITDA – short for ‘earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization,’ an accounting measure of a company’s operating profitability – has grown five-fold in the last few years.
“What that tells people, especially in the financial world, is that our casinos are doing well. They’re making money,” DiLorenzo said. “Our seven casinos are investing, reinvesting, recreating themselves, had a great summer. I think that now with this issue hopefully behind us for now and hopefully forever, that our casinos will regain their strength, Atlantic City will come back as a destination and continue to grow. That would all be very positive for our state.”
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