North Jersey could get up to 3 casinos under new bill introduced in Assembly

By John Brennan The Record

Three North Jersey Assembly members introduced a resolution on Monday that recommends that up to three casinos be built in Bergen, Hudson, or Essex Counties.

The resolution is part of an effort to have a statewide ballot question approved in time for voters to consider ending Atlantic City's four-decade casino monopoly.

"We can't sit by any longer," said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, a former Atlantic City casino executive, adding that a portion of the tax revenues would go to Atlantic City.

Caputo said he also would support giving laid-off Atlantic City casino workers - four of the city's 12 casinos have closed in the last 18 months - preference in hiring at the North Jersey facilities.

Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural will unveil renderings for a Hard Rock Casino Meadowlands that is proposed to be located adjacent to his $100 million, two-year-old grandstand.

Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, said that it was time to give up on the idea of allowing Atlantic City more time to revive before more casinos are built elsewhere in the state.

"That strategy has proven ineffective," Huttle said. "We are losing gaming tourists to our [New York and Pennseylvania casino] neighbors, and it is time we bring them back home to New Jersey.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, said it was crucial that the vote comes this year.

"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," Mukherji said.

Caputo said that to ensure a vote in November on North Jersey casinos, the language of the bill and authorization by the Legislature would have to take place in the next 30 days. Governor Christie said last week that he had no objection to a vote this year, although he does not have any direct power over the process.

Previous suggestions for North Jersey casinos by lawmakers such as state Senators Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge and Ray Lesniak of Elizabeth have been for up to two casinos in the northern half of the state. Caputo said that the defeat of a 1974 ballot question on adding casinos statewide suggests that voters want specific areas listed. He also said the marketplace would decide if all three casino licenses would ever be issued.

Sweeney has been mostly unsuccessful in getting South Jersey elected officials to agree to construction of North Jersey casinos even if some of the revenues would go to Atlantic City.

"It’s disruptive to talk about casinos in North Jersey while South Jersey families are still reeling from having their jobs, health care and stability taken away, and while Atlantic County, Atlantic City and our schools are still feeling the hit," Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said in a statement. “I will not support any attempt to amend our constitution to open casinos in the Meadowlands or Jersey City or anywhere outside Atlantic City, and I will definitely work against having such a question rushed through rushed through to beat a ballot deadline.”