(TRENTON) - Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Raj Mukherji on Monday announced they've introduced legislation to ask New Jersey voters to approve giving the Legislature authority to pass laws establishing casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties.
The proposed constitutional amendment - announced at a State House news conference - would allow the Legislature to pass laws establishing not more than three casinos in the three North Jersey counties.
"We cannot sit idle any longer," said Caputo (D-Essex). "We can't bury our head in the sand anymore, because one day we're going to look up and our gaming dollars will have flocked away to other states. This is not about taking business away from Atlantic City. This is about New Jersey missing out on the available markets in northern New Jersey and the surrounding region. With continuously encroaching competition from New York and Pennsylvania, the longer we wait the more our window of opportunity closes. If New Jersey is going to stay competitive, it needs alternatives, and that means putting casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties."
"We are losing gaming tourists to our neighbors and it is time we bring them back home to New Jersey," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Now is the time to finally focus on finding the best ways to utilize gaming to boost the North Jersey economy and our state as a whole. We can bring top-flight casinos to Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties while helping Atlantic City, benefiting everyone and ensuring New Jersey remains competitive."
"We've watched New York and Pennsylvania slowly but surely erode New Jersey's gaming industry, and the time for talk is over," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Jobs, jobs, jobs. If the voters authorize limited North Jersey gaming in these three counties that are crucial to our economic success, we could realize more than 20,000 good paying jobs and realize billions in additional gross gaming revenues in the coming years. In the face of continuously encroaching competition from New York and Pennsylvania, our window of opportunity closes with each additional minute of delay."
Under the proposed amendment, the state's share of revenues from those casinos would be used - as is done with Atlantic City casino revenues - for programs that assist senior citizens and residents with disabilities, but a portion of additional revenues from North Jersey gaming would also be dedicated to subsidies for non-gaming development in Atlantic City.
Also, the Legislature would give priority to a proposed casino that is likely to create more permanent jobs and construction jobs.
"We are losing many North Jersey customers to newly-opened casinos in Pennsylvania and New York," Caputo said. "We can continue to ignore that fact at own peril, or we can move forward with a sensible statewide gaming plan that creates permanent jobs and booming economic development. Bringing gaming to these North Jersey counties would help spark economic growth and jobs that would benefit the entire state."
"There is no reason why we can't come up with a statewide gaming plan that brings jobs and economic growth to Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties while also supporting Atlantic City's recovery and revitalization efforts," Vainieri Huttle said. "The reality of gaming today is that New Jersey must do more to remain a leader. We have to start competing or we will continue to fall behind in our region and in the country."
"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," Mukherji said. "The economic growth that would come from first-class casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson would help the entire state. 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 could use these assets and capitalize on the proximity of our three counties to entice patrons from New York City and surrounding areas."