New Jersey politicians are pressing forward with plans to authorize casino gaming outside Atlantic City.
On Thursday, committees in both of the state’s legislative chambers approved resolutions that would amend the state constitution to authorize casino gambling outside Atlantic City. The ultimate plan is to put the issue on a ballot referendum in November 2016 and allow state voters to choose thumbs up or down.
Both the Assembly and Senate plans would okay two casinos in separate counties in North Jersey, which includes the casino-hungry Meadowlands complex. But Atlantic City officials and some casino operators fear that increased competition is the last thing AC needs, as the city’s eight surviving casinos are only now getting back on their feet after witnessing four venues close in 2014.
Both the Assembly and Senate resolutions seek to allay these fears by ensuring that a percentage of the tax revenue generated by the new casinos would go to AC to offset any lost business. But the plans offer very different formulas for achieving this aim.
The Assembly plan calls for 35% of all casino tax revenue to be allocated to a new state entity that would fund new non-gaming options designed to boost traffic to AC. The Senate plan calls for AC to get 49% of the North Jersey casinos’ first $150m of tax revenue, falling to 40% for the next $150m, and falling another 10% for each subsequent $150m, the total value of which can’t exceed 33%.
There are also competing versions of who gets to run the new casinos. The Assembly wants one casino to have no affiliation with any AC operator while the Senate wants to see AC operators at least partially involved in both casinos.
These and other distinctions must be resolved before Jan. 12, when the current legislative session comes to a close. A number of legislators oppose both plans, expressing the view that AC’s decline is due to regional saturation and the North Jersey plans are akin to trying to dig your way out of an already deep hole.
Assuming a compromise plan can be achieved, getting the question on the ballot will require both chambers to approve the measure by a simple majority in two consecutive legislative years. However, if the measure passes by a three-fifths majority in both houses, only a single vote is required, although the likelihood of achieving this super majority appears doubtful.