New Jersey pols reach compromise on north Jersey casino plans

north-jersey-casino-compromiseNew Jersey legislators have reached a compromise deal to pursue two new casinos in the northern part of the state.

On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto held a press conference to announce they’d reached a deal on how to resolve two competing pieces of legislation to open up the state’s casino market outside Atlantic City.

Christie told reporters that “nobody here is getting exactly what they wanted or what they asked for,” but it appears Sweeney is getting more than Prieto.

Sweeney’s plan calls for existing Atlantic City casino operators to hold a 51% stake in each of the new casinos, while Prieto wanted at least one casino to be wholly owned by an operator with no ties to AC.

The compromise calls for both of the state’s legislative chambers to vote on Sweeney’s plan, but Prieto exacted a concession that gives AC operators a six-month window in which to propose north Jersey projects. Should they fail to get their proposals in on time, the bidding would be opened up to other companies.

Another concession stipulates that each of the new casinos will require minimum investment of $1b. Sweeney said this would require operators to bring “real investment’ to the state and not just throw up a “slots in the box” venue with little in the way of non-gaming entertainment options.

Prieto said the $1b threshold would make sure “the right type of development gets built,” adding that he didn’t care who built the venues “as long as they get built in the right fashion.”

Despite Monday’s announcement, north Jersey casinos still face a significant obstacle. Opening up casino gambling outside AC requires amending the state’s constitution, which can only be done via voter referendum. But approving the legislation in time for November’s ballot is anything but a foregone conclusion.

New Jersey ballot referendum questions can be approved one of two ways: by a simple majority vote in both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions, or by a 60% supermajority in a single session. New Jersey’s current legislative session expires on Monday, leaving only the one legislative session that ends in August in which to obtain that supermajority vote.

Sweeney’s bill allows for one-third of the north Jersey casino tax revenue to be funneled to AC operators as a way to offset their expected loss of business. But many south Jersey politicians are hostile to any plan to further cut into AC’s already declining revenue, regardless of any crumbs tossed their way as compensation.