NJ State Senator President Steve Sweeney Spells out Plan for North Jersey Casino
New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney has revealed his plan for expanding casino gambling into North Jersey. The plan was revealed in Sweeney’s op-ed piece in the Press of Atlantic City.
In the article, Sweeney discussed Atlantic City’s role as an economic generator since 1978, when casino gambling was approved for the city. At its peak, said Sweeney, the industry created over 40,000 jobs and once generated $5.2 billion in revenues in one year. That year was 2006, consider the high-water mark for the casino industry in the state. Since that time, a glut of new casinos in the northeast has slowed traffic from New York and Pennsylania. The state of the economy also took a big chunk of the city’s profits, as fewer people had excess cash to gamble. Atlantic City’s revenues have declined to nearly half what it was in 2006, while as many as four casinos could close in the city this year.
Attempts to Help Atlantic City
Sweeney pointed out attempts to bolster the industry. Atlantic City is in the middle of a multi-year plan to turn the city into a non-gambling resort destination, less reliant on gambling dollars. Sweeney and Governor Chris Christie worked together on a bipartisan plan to legalize online casinos and poker sites, in order to help Atlantic City casino license holders expand their business to the Internet. The state even took a sports betting lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping legal sportsbooks would boost the revenues for Borgata, Tropican, and the other casinos in the city. As Sweeney pointed out in his op-ed piece, nothing has worked.
With so much energy gone to waste, Sweeney told New Jerseyans, “The future of gaming in New Jersey is contingent on being able to adapt to a changing market. For decades, Atlantic City was a worldwide tourist destination based largely on the lure of casino gaming, mixed with beautiful beaches. Times have changed, however, and we can no longer close our eyes to the reality that other markets are luring away dollar after dollar that could be spent right here in New Jersey.”
North Jersey Casino Plan
Sweeney points out that he is not giving up on Atlantic City. Part of his plan is to tax the North Jersey casino in a way that redirects over a billion dollars in revenues to the renovation of Atlantic City. His idea is to invest in non-gambling related projects, to help transition Atlantic City’s non-gaming resort and tourism industry into something sustainable.
That does not mean Atlantic City casinos will cease to exist. Sweeney makes that a key point in his address to the people of New Jersey. He points out a number of “key components” to his plan.
Protection of Atlantic City
Sweeney wrote, “First, the protection of Atlantic City as the premier gaming destination. Any gaming facility outside Atlantic City must be sited in such a way as to minimize ‘cannibalization’ of Atlantic City and should be constructed as a ‘convenience gaming’ establishment, not a destination resort.”
His plan has four other components. These include the aforementioned casino tax on North Jersey, a plan to help jobless casino employees receive preference on jobs at the new casino, preferential treatment in North Jersey licensing for the gaming companies which have been established in Atlantic City a long time, and help for Atlantic City’s government in transforming and restructuring their local economy.
Republican Lawmakers Call for Atlantic City Monopoly
Some New Jersey state Republicans remain devoted to the concept of Atlantic City as the lone casino gambling enclave in the state. Several GOP lawmakers, led by Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, held a press conference on Tuesday calling for a continuing of the ban on casinos elsewhere in the state.
Bramnick’s support was limited, though. The Republicans only want to support protections for Atlantic City until February 2016, when Governor Chris Christie’s 5-year moratorium on casino expansion ends. To the GOP politicians, it’s a matter of keeping one’s word, while giving the struggling businesses of Atlantic City the full breadth of time they were promised to turn their revenues around.
Steve Sweeney’s suggestion to place the idea a North Jersey measure on the ballot in November 2015 is considered precipitous. According to State Senate President Sweeney, though, the ballot measure would allow casino development to go ahead as soon as possible, after the February 2016 moratorium ends. If voters approved a North Jersey casino in November 2015, the casino licensing process and development would take years to complete.
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