North Jersey Would Get Three Casinos Under Lawmakers’ Plan

Seeking to stanch the flow of gambling dollars to surrounding states, Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey said they plan to file legislation that would allow as many as three casinos near New York City.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, 74, of Belleville said he and two other Democrats will introduce a resolution Monday asking voters to approve expanding gambling beyond Atlantic City to include one casino each in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. Doing so would create as many as 20,000 direct jobs and another 30,000 ancillary positions, they said.

The backers need the support of the full Senate and Assembly, which are controlled by Democrats, to get the referendum on a ballot; approval by Governor Chris Christie isn’t required. Caputo said it’s unclear whether such a vote would be in November or in 2016.

“To survive in anything, you have to adapt,” said Caputo, a 20-year casino executive. “The business has changed. You had a tremendous amount of competition in our neighboring states. We’ve had a downturn in the economy. And that vicious competition has taken over $2 billion of taxable revenue away from the state of New Jersey.”

Atlantic City, once the second-largest gaming market after Las Vegas, has struggled as competitors opened in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and other states. Last year, four of its 12 casinos closed, and annual revenue has dropped to $2.9 billion from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006. Christie, a second-term Republican, has struggled to revive the community of almost 40,000 people, about one-third of whom live in poverty.

Hard Rock

Caputo, along with Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle of Englewood and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, said the rate at which the new casinos would be taxed and their locations would still need to be set through legislation following the referendum.

Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment, which is partly owned by Hard Rock International Inc., is expected to unveil plans this week for a casino at the racetrack in the East Rutherford sports complex in anticipation of blackjack and other games being allowed in the northern part of the state.

Jeffrey Gural, the New York real-estate executive who is spearheading the effort, said a casino could generate $400 million annually in revenue for New Jersey. The state-owned track is about nine miles (15 kilometers) from midtown Manhattan.

Paying More

Gural said he’s offered to pay the same tax rates as in Pennsylvania, 55 percent on slot machines and 14 percent on table games, above Atlantic City’s 8 percent rate. The proceeds would be earmarked for economic development in Atlantic City. He said he faces opposition from New Jersey casino operators who don’t want to lose their monopoly and from lawmakers sympathetic to them.

“They say, ‘We don’t want the competition from the north.’ I say you already have competition from the north, it’s just not in New Jersey,” Gural said in a telephone interview.

Support for a North Jersey casino fell to 36 percent in March from 42 percent in August, according to polling by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Christie, a Republican in his second term, said last week he could support casinos in the northern part of the state.

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