As Atlantic City continues to try and recover from economic hardship, the debate continues as to whether casinos should be allowed in Central and North Jersey.

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Atlantic City was given plenty of time to put its fiscal house in order without in-state gaming competition and the resort town failed, according to two proponents of legislation that would allow voters to decide if casinos should be permitted in North Jersey.

The measure would place a question on the ballot asking voters to amend the state constitution to allow for casino expansion.

"We gave Atlantic City five years and we had a moratorium placed on it by Gov. Chris Christie and also by state Senate President Steve Sweeney, and that didn't work out well. We lost four casinos. We lost 10,000 jobs. The area's in a really regional depression and the foreclosure rate is up," said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville), who sponsors the legislation.

Voters will not get the chance this year to have their say unless lawmakers approve the legislation by Aug. 3. The question will not be on this year's ballot, Sweeney recently indicated. The Senate has a voting session scheduled for July 23, but the list of bills to be considered has not been released. The Assembly has nothing scheduled for this summer.

Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumama (R-Wayne) hoped that would change, but was not optimistic.

"Maybe in the next few days the stars could align and we could see something happen, but right now I would not bet the house," Rumana said. "There's still talk of trying to put it on the ballot in 2016 which would then push real activity off until 2017."

While there is plenty of bipartisan support for casino expansion there is also a fair amount of bipartisan and regional opposition.

The three state lawmakers who represent Atlantic City are all adamantly against allowing casinos elsewhere in the state for fear that they would cannibalize the city's business.

"We don't want Atlantic City to be extinct, but we want to stay in the gaming business and the only way we're going to do that is to change locations and bring it up to North Jersey," Caputo said.

Under Caputo's resolution, Atlantic City and the state's horse racing industry would receive a portion of the revenues generated by North Jersey casinos.

In June, lawmakers in Essex, Hudson, Ocean, Monmouth Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset Counties all indicated they would like to see casinos in their counties.


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