New Jersey Lawmakers Debate New Casino Referendum

A referendum to go before New Jersey voters to expand casino gambling seems likely for November, but exactly where those casinos would be located is being contested hotly in the state legislature. The main candidates are Jersey City, the Meadowlands and Newark. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (l.) says his city is closest to the action.

The New Jersey Meadowlands, Jersey City and Newark are all being considered for an expansion of New Jersey casinos beyond Atlantic City.

But with lawmakers hoping to get a referendum on the expansion before voters in November, it’s now time to make a choice of which site and advocates of all three—as well as other proposed sites—are making their case to colleagues.

Jersey City and the Meadowlands are the frontrunners.

“There’s only one place that every major casino operator in the country already has come to check out, and that’s Jersey City,” Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop told “It’s not rocket science. We’re closest to Manhattan. A casino here would be the highest-grossing in North America, bigger than any Las Vegas casino.”

However, proponents of a Meadowlands casino are just as adamant since any casino project would be connected to the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The complex already has MetLife Stadium and the Izod Center as well as the American Dream Mall and could also develop a convention center.

Locations in Essex, Monmouth and Sussex counties are also being discussed.

The proposed referendum would seek to end Atlantic City’s monopoly in the state on casinos, but would also ensure that revenue from any new casinos would be used to help redevelop the city as a full-fledged resort less dependent on casinos.

But less clear in the referendum are details such as how many casino licenses would be issued, the exact geography of new casino zones and how locations would be picked. A tax rate for new casinos is also under discussion, with most proposal asking for a significantly higher rate than in Atlantic City.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak—a major proponent of expanding casinos in the state—told the website that the likely winner will be the site that can deliver the most bang for the buck.

“Most jobs created, most revenue generated, most investment made,” Lesniak said.

That attitude bodes well for a Jersey City site, which has already seen a $4.6 billion multiuse casino project proposed this summer by real estate investor Paul Fireman would include not only a casino but also a convention center, 95-story hotel, and a motor-sports stadium, among other attractions.

So far, potential developers do not seem put off by the chance of a higher tax rate for a northern New Jersey casino.

New York’s proposed tax rate for three approved upstate casinos is about 40 percent for slot-machine revenues and 10 percent for table games. Atlantic City casinos pay just 8 percent on their gross gaming revenues as well as a redevelopment tax.

But the provisions calling for some revenue to go to Atlantic City Development could see a northern New Jersey casino paying a higher rate than Atlantic City casinos.

Advocates for new casinos, however, have expressed a willingness to pay a higher tax rate considering the revenue potential for a casino located close to New York City.

Talks on the referendum feature consideration of sites in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Sussex, Monmouth and Hudson counties on a list of potential locations, officials said.