Anti-North Jersey Casino Group Launches Campaign

Little more than a week after proponents of building two new casinos in the northern part of New Jersey launched their campaign to persuade the state’s voters to approve the plan, the opposition group No North Jersey Casinos announced they were launching their campaign. The coalition is comprised of about 300 businesses, public officials, labor leaders and citizens who feel casino expansion in the state will cause casino closings and job losses in Atlantic City.

The other shoe has fallen as a coalition opposing the expansion of casino gambling in New Jersey to sites outside of Atlantic City launched a campaign to persuade the state’s voters to vote down a referendum on the plan.

The group made its announcement little more than a week after pro-casino expansion forces announced their own campaign.

New Jersey voters will be asked in November to approve the construction of two new casinos in the state at least 70 miles from Atlantic City—which would set the casino in Northern New Jersey near the New York City market. A constitutional amendment is needed to allow casino gaming outside of Atlantic City.

Proponents say the new casinos will bring jobs and tax revenue to the state, but the opposition maintains that any gains would be offset by destroying the Atlantic City casino market, causing casinos to close there and the loss of thousands of casino industry-related jobs.

“If you vote for this, 23,000 to 30,000 families are going to be out of work,” said Debra DiLorenzo, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and head of the coalition. “How does that help our state? That’s a punch to the gut.”

DiLorenzo said the group is still weighing its budget, but is prepared to spend what it takes on advertising to defeat the referendum.

“I would use the term ‘formidable,’” she said. “We know the other side is going to spend heavily on this.”

The No North Jersey Casinos Coalition is comprised of about 300 businesses, public officials, labor leaders and citizens and officially announced it formation at a news conference in Trenton. Among those attending Resorts Casino Hotel CEO Mark Giannantonio, UNITE HERE Local 54 president Bob McDevitt, Greater Atlantic City Chamber president Joe Kelly and others, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

“After a few tough years brought about by out-of-state gaming competition and the economic downturn, gaming and tourism in Atlantic City are poised for growth,” said Giannantonio. “North Jersey casinos will stop and even reverse this positive momentum, which is particularly troubling for the entire South Jersey economy.”

The group has launched a website and also released a study authored by Cory Morowitz, managing partner of GGH/Morowitz Gaming Advisors, studying the effect the new casinos would have on Atlantic City and the Northeast gaming market.

“Gaming in northern New Jersey will quash vital investment, close casinos, reduce employment and destabilize an entire region,” Morowitz said.

Morowitz estimated that northern New Jersey casinos could sap $1 billion to $1.4 billion of casino revenue in Atlantic City. The city’s eight casinos won $2.56 billion last year.

Though the referendum does not specifically say where the new casinos would be located, major proposals for The Meadowlands Racetrack and Jersey City are leading contenders. Both sites would draw heavily on the New York City market.

That’s brought out some heavy hitters in state politics in support of the plan. Included in the expansion plan are provisions to redirect casino taxes from the new casinos to Atlantic City, to help the resort diversify its attractions away from casino gambling.

“Advancing the plan for casino expansion into North Jersey is critical for New Jersey’s economic future,” New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney said when announcing the push in favor of the expansion plan. “The casino expansion will help generate funds supporting investment in a new future for Atlantic City, a future that sees the city’s return to its role as a premiere vacation destination.”

But opponents dispute that the expansion would do anything but hurt Atlantic City.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo—who represents Atlantic City and is a member of the coalition—said the Morowitz report proves the expansion of casino gaming to North Jersey would be “catastrophic.”

“That’s why this fight isn’t just a fight about gaming,” he told the Press. “It’s about protecting the livelihoods of thousands of middle-class families who will lose their homes and their jobs.”

There have been other reports predicting that expanding casinos in the state will hurt Atlantic City, most recently by Fitch ratings which predicted four of Atlantic City’s eight casino would close if the new casinos came online.

Also, a recent poll by Monmouth University found voters are deadlocked on the idea with 48 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed. The plan receives more support from voters in Northern New Jersey and more opposition in the rest of the state, the poll found.

Meanwhile, it’s becoming apparent that one group very opposed to the expansion plan are New York politicians, who reportedly have been discussing how to respond should New Jersey approve casino expansions.

According to a report on the website, lawmakers in New York have been discussing their options, including possibly ending a seven-year ban on new casino approvals in the state to allowing the state’s racinos to become full-fledged casinos.

“I’m not interested in creating a border war with New Jersey, but New York has a vested interest in gaming and we’re not going to allow one of our neighbors to take away from that,” New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, told the website.

Pretlow told the site that two ideas—ending the seven-year ban on downstate New York casino development and consideration of Aqueduct and Yonkers for two of the licenses—have been under discussion in Albany.

“We now find it very important that we are a leader in gaming,” Pretlow said.