New Year, Same Question: Should New Jersey Expand Casinos Beyond Atlantic City?

New Jersey is once again considering expanding its gambling footprint beyond the borders of Atlantic City. Will this latest effort succeed where past efforts have failed?

The New Jersey Assembly (ACR 41-45) and Senate (SCR 13) are proposing constitutional amendments that would expand casino gaming beyond the borders of Atlantic City, opening the door for casinos in other areas of the state, including northern New Jersey near the New York border.  

What Is the Legislature Considering?

The bills are carryovers from past legislative efforts:

  • ACR 41: Proposes constitutional amendment to authorize Legislature to permit by law establishment and operation of casinos in certain counties.
  • ACR 42: Proposes constitutional amendment giving Legislature authority to establish not more than two casinos outside of Atlantic City.
  • ACR 43: Proposes constitutional amendment authorizing Legislature by law to allow establishment and operation of not more than three casinos in Bergen, Essex, or Hudson counties.
  • ACR 44: Proposes constitutional amendment authorizing Legislature by law to allow establishment and operation of casinos in Bergen County by 2018.
  • ACR 45: Expresses Legislature’s intent in approving proposed amendment to State Constitution to authorize casino gambling in northern part of State.
  • SCR 13: Proposes constitutional amendment giving Legislature authority to establish slot machine gambling at horse racetracks; dedicates revenues derived to support State-administered defined benefit retirement systems, casinos, improvements to Atlantic City, and horse racing.

Separate legislation (A 612 and A 613) would authorize VLTs at the Meadowlands Racetrack.   

  • A 612: Permits State Lottery Commission to authorize video lottery terminals at Meadowlands horse racetrack, subject to voter approval.
  • A 613: Permits State Lottery Commission to authorize video lottery terminals at Meadowlands racetrack, upon voter approval; dedicates 1/3 net proceeds to General Fund, 1/3 to State education aid, and 1/3 to horse racing industry.

An Overwhelming “No” from Voters in 2016

Casino expansion was on the ballot in 2016 and suffice it to say, New Jerseans weren’t interested.

77% of voters said “no” to the 2016 referendum question that read:

“Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit casino gambling in two additional counties in this State? At present, casino gambling is allowed only in Atlantic City in Atlantic County. Only one casino in each of the two counties would be permitted. Each casino is to be located in a town that is at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. The amendment would allow certain persons to apply first for a casino license. “

Has Anything Changed?

As noted, casino expansion talk is nothing new in the Garden State. But despite support in high places, the state has never come close to expanding casino gambling beyond Atlantic City’s borders.

However, there is a pretty powerful narrative being written.

After getting a taste of what Northern New Jersey can offer from sports betting, lawmakers are likely excited by the prospects of New Yorkers having a full-scale casino on the New Jersey side of the border. If swarms of New Yorkers are willing to cross the New Jersey border to place online sports bets, imagine the clamor for a casino?

That said, the success of sports betting and online gambling fueled speculation of a renewed push for a North Jersey casino last year, but that push never materialized.

As lobbyist Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet told the Press of AC last March, “We know that those on the pro-expansion side are going to look for any leverage that they can find to push for North Jersey casinos. And, thus far, they’ve been unsuccessful.”

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