• Gambling in northern part of state would increase competition
  • No new destinations unless constitutional limits are reworked

New Jersey voters will decide whether two casinos can open in the northern part of the state, creating the potential for giant new gambling establishments across the Hudson River from New York.

A constitutional amendment allowing casinos beyond Atlantic City will be put on the November ballot under measures passed today by the Democratic-led legislature. If voters approve the change, lawmakers will authorize construction in two counties on properties at least 72 miles from Atlantic City, the state’s only gambling hub.

Applications would be accepted only from casino operators presently licensed in the state. The process would be open to other operators if 60 days pass without bids. The bidders must be willing to commit $1 billion on the projects, with a portion of revenue going to public improvements in struggling Atlantic City.

The casinos would create potential new competitors for gambling resorts in Pennsylvania, New York and Atlantic City, as well as opportunity for New Jersey’s current operators. MGM Resorts International, which co-owns the Borgata in Atlantic City with Boyd Gaming Corp., has said it is interested in such a project.

North Jersey

Like the legislature, Governor Chris Christie, a 53-year-old Republican, has no authority to expand gambling. He has said he supports the measure seeking voters’ input on a constitutional change.

Possible New Jersey locations include a mega-mall under construction in the Meadowlands; an East Rutherford harness-racing track operated by New York real estate executive Jeffrey Gural; and property in Jersey City controlled by Boston investor Paul Fireman.

Other operators include Caesars Entertainment Corp., Atlantic City’s largest casino company with three properties; and Tropicana Entertainment Corp., controlled by billionaire Carl Icahn.

Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns a casino in nearby Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has said it’s interested in building a large convention center and gambling complex outside New York.

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