NJ casino expansion on hold until 2016?
Supporters of a ballot question asking New Jersey voters to amend the constitution to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City are not conceding that it won't happen this year, but they are losing confidence. In order for voters to get the chance in November, a resolution must receive final legislative approval by Aug. 3.
"We felt that this year would've been the year because we would be able to energize the election," said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville), co-sponsor of the resolution. "Everybody recognizes it's going to be a very low turnout, and this would give a clear issue for the people of the state on a very important issue, in terms of revenue and jobs."
The resolution would give the legislature the power to pass laws establishing casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties, if it was voter-approved. The measure is also sponsored by Assembly members Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood).
A portion of additional revenues from North Jersey gaming would also be dedicated to subsidies for non-gaming development in Atlantic City, but lawmakers representing the resort town have been adamantly opposed to casino expansion.
"The emphasis should be on Atlantic City and not North Jersey casinos right now," said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) on June 1, the day the resolution was unveiled. "My intent is to fight against North Jersey casinos. I've put my position out there. I'm for fighting for Atlantic City and fighting for the middle class."
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has indicated the question will not be on this year's ballot. Caputo said that would just delay the inevitable.
"We need to bring jobs back to New Jersey; we need to have revenue for a state that has lost a lot of financial integrity," Caputo said. "Casino expansion would help accomplish that. I think (the delay) was really a political battle rather than the policy issue. Everybody knows we're right. It's just a matter of when."
Not everyone agreed.
"Upon news that the Legislature will be hearing proposals for a constitutional amendment, we cannot offer any support to a gaming expansion proposal that does not dedicate a portion of revenues to the horse racing industry," said state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) and Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Red Bank) in a joint press statement released June 2. "The horse racing industry is an important part of gaming in New Jersey, and we must fight to make sure it remains so."