Bill To Bring Casino Gaming To North Jersey Advances

Paul Nichols, Bergen Dispatch 

An Assembly panel on Monday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democratic lawmakers asking voters to allow the creation of casino gaming facilities in North Jersey and use money from that expansion to fund programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents, along with help for Atlantic City and the horse racing industry.

Under current law, casino gambling is permitted only in Atlantic City, but the constitutional amendment proposed by Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo, Speaker Vincent Prieto, Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Raj Mukherji, Joseph Lagana, Tim Eustace, Marlene Caride, Angelica Jimenez, Gordon Johnson and John McKeon, Tom Giblin, Sheila Oliver, L. Grace Spencer, Mila Jasey, Cleopatra Tucker and Eliana Pintor Marin, would allow the Legislature to pass laws to permit casinos in two northern New Jersey counties. 

“This is a game-changing proposal for New Jersey taxpayers,” said Caputo (D-Essex), chairman of the Assembly gaming committee. “We would modernize our gaming industry and provide significant relief for senior citizens and disabled residents. It’s truly a win for everyone.”

“I’ve long said North Jersey gaming was a matter of when, not if, and with this proposal, voters will get the chance to strengthen our state’s financial future,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “A modernized, world-class gaming industry will compete with other states and provide a hefty infusion of money for programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents. This bill does the right thing for both Atlantic City and our senior and disabled residents. This is something everyone can support.”

Under current law, casino gambling is permitted only in Atlantic City in Atlantic County.  This constitutional amendment would allow the Legislature to pass laws to permit the establishment and operation, under regulation and control by the state, of casinos in two other counties of this state.  No more than two casinos would be permitted and only one casino in each of the two counties would be permitted.  Also, each casino is to be located in a municipality that is at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.

“For a state sorely in need of new revenues for vital needs such as programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents, this is a win-win,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic), chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. “This proposal would help bring a brighter economic future for our state.”

“This bill is the right thing to do for our gaming industry, Atlantic City and our senior and disabled residents,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “We can bring top-flight northern New Jersey casinos while helping Atlantic City, benefiting everyone and ensuring New Jersey remains competitive."

“This bill is about keeping New Jersey's gaming industry relevant and viable, but it’s also about replenishing hundreds of millions in annual gross gaming revenues that we have lost to neighboring states in recent years and helping our seniors and disabled residents,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This is a common sense approach to modernizing our gaming industry.”

“With continuously encroaching competition from New York and Pennsylvania, the longer we wait the more our window of opportunity closes,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “New Jersey must stay competitive and ensure funding for vital programs and property tax relief.”

The eligibility for each initial license to establish a new casino would be limited to those whose majority equity owners:

a) are holders of a New Jersey casino license that were operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage by the Legislature of this concurrent resolution; or

b) were principal owners of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage, if that principal owner or subsidiary also holds a valid license to own and operate a casino in another jurisdiction with licensing standards similar to those in New Jersey.

A principal owner would mean any person who, directly or indirectly, owns 50 percent or more of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage.

If a person described above does not apply for a license within 60 days following the date on which the licensing entity indicates that applications are being accepted, or applies but fails to meet certain progress requirements that will be prescribed by law toward the establishment and operation of a gambling house or casino, any person may apply for that license in accordance with law.

An applicant for a license to establish a casino would be approved only if the applicant commits to and makes an investment of at least $1 billion in the acquisition, construction, and development of the facility in which the casino is located prior to the commencement of gambling operations.

The law would determine the location and type of such casinos and of the gambling games which may be conducted.  The law would also determine the tax rate to be levied upon the gross gaming revenues derived from the gambling operations.

"We are losing gaming tourists to our neighbors and it is time we bring them back home to New Jersey, all while ensuring continued help for Atlantic City and viable funding for senior and disabled residents," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This is, quite simply, the right thing to do.”

“We must move forward with a sensible statewide gaming plan that creates permanent jobs and economic development, while providing sustainable funding for senior and disabled residents,” said Caride (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Bringing gaming to these North Jersey counties would benefit the entire state."

“The economic growth that would come from first-class casinos must help the entire state,” said Jimenez (D-Hudson/Bergen). “These counties have some of the most prized real estate in the Northeast, a talented labor pool and sit at the heart of major transportation corridors.”

“We cannot let this chance go by to modernize our gaming industry and boost essential programs for senior and disabled residents,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “All in all, this is the most sensible approach.”

In the first fiscal year in which state revenues are derived from the new casinos, those revenues would be credited to a special account to be used for the same purposes as state revenues from Atlantic City casinos are currently applied.

In the second fiscal year in which state revenues from the new casinos are derived and thereafter, the revenues from the new casinos, as well as the Atlantic City casinos, would be credited to a special New Jersey Investment Fund.  Two percent of the amount credited in each state fiscal year first would be dedicated as state aid, with each half of the two percent allocated to the locality in which each of the two gambling establishments are located and operating.  Locality would mean the host municipality, county, or both.

Then, the proposed amendment would dedicate for each state fiscal year the remaining revenues in the investment fund for the purposes of the recovery, stabilization, or improvement of the city of Atlantic City, for the same purposes as the state revenues from Atlantic City casinos are currently applied, for state aid to each county and municipality in the state for programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents, and for such other purposes as the Legislature shall by law provide. 
     
The proposed amendment specifies the percentages dedicated for those purposes for the first 15 state fiscal years.
     
Commencing in the 17th state fiscal year, and for the next subsequent nine state fiscal years, the percentages dedicated for those purpo
would change over the course of each fiscal year, and then would remain at those levels for each state fiscal year thereafter.
     
Notwithstanding the specific dedications, the total amount dedicated in each state fiscal year for the purposes of the recovery, stabilization, or improvement of Atlantic City would not exceed one third of the total credited to the investment fund in each state fiscal year.
     
Of the percentage of revenues dedicated from the investment fund for state aid to each county and municipality for programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents and for such other purposes as the Legislature shall by law provide, no less than two percentage points in each state fiscal year would be dedicated for programs designed to aid the thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen in the state.

“This bill will enable us to aid Atlantic City while putting North Jersey in a position to combat the encroaching gaming competition from neighboring states,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris).

“North Jersey’s proximity to New York makes it a natural destination for gaming and entertainment,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic).  “This is a smart move.”

“We have the opportunity to significantly boost our economy while aiding many worthwhile state programs,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic).  “The time to act is now.”

“This is the chance to stop the bleeding caused by newer casinos in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania while solidifying New Jersey as the gaming capital of the East Coast,” Spencer (D-Essex).

“Seniors, the disabled, veterans – all of them will benefit from the additional revenue generated by gaming expansion in New Jersey, as will our local economies,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris).

“We can’t sit by any longer and watch other states lure away tourism and gaming dollars. This will be a real win for North Jersey and our state as a whole,” said Tucker (D-Essex).

“This would be a tremendous job creator and revenue generator, one that will provide a significant boost to both our local and statewide economies,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex).

The resolution was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  As a proposed constitutional amendment, the bill must now sit on the desks of lawmakers for 20 days before being considered by the full Assembly. It must also receive a public hearing.