Opinion: We must reassess merits of North Jersey casinos

THE SUPER Bowl brought an estimated 400,000 people into the North Jersey region, yet few did little more than attend the game before crossing the Hudson River back into New York.

If we had a casino at the Meadowlands, just moments from MetLife Stadium, would we have kept visitors in New Jersey? Would they have spent their travel money in our state instead of New York?

These are some of the questions raised last week at a meeting of the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee as we discussed legislation to create a Casino Gaming Study Commission tasked with exploring gaming options in Bergen County.

For too long, we have shelved the possibility of new gaming destinations in order to protect Atlantic City. But the idea that a successful casino in the Meadowlands would come at the expense of Atlantic City is outdated and simply wrong. We should be asking how we can best boost gaming statewide.

In recent years, we have seen nationwide gaming revenues increase as New Jersey falls further behind. Atlantic City casino returns consistently dropped for seven consecutive years. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is now the second-largest casino market in the country, behind only Las Vegas. And New York voters have approved the creation of seven more casinos, adding to the many it already operates.

Less money to spend

What this means for New Jersey is that each year there is less money in the Casino Revenue Fund to spend on programs and initiatives for our most vulnerable residents, particularly senior citizens and individuals with developmental disabilities. It also means that more and more people are looking beyond New Jersey for a gaming experience.

Empire City Casino in Yonkers is about 20 minutes away from Bergen County, which it prominently advertises on the Turnpike. Resorts World Casino in Queens is around 40 minutes away.

This is not about North Jersey versus Atlantic City. We all want Atlantic City to succeed. Most New Jerseyans hold a fondness in their hearts and a nostalgic reverence for this famed destination. But the reality of our busy lives often makes it impossible for people in many parts of the state to simply pick up and head to Atlantic City for the night on short notice.

Imagine a couple from Bergen County with young children who suddenly discovers they have someone to watch the kids for a few hours on a Saturday night – it’s simply implausible for them to trek all the way to Atlantic City to enjoy themselves. But in 20 minutes they could be in Yonkers enjoying dinner and a variety of gaming options.

By not providing a North Jersey alternative, we are enabling the outflow of casino revenue. We are also giving up business for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

There is no reason why we can’t come up with a statewide gaming plan while also supporting Atlantic City’s recovery and revitalization efforts.

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.

Reenergize industry

We now have a choice. We can either continue to bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best or we can create that alternative to reenergize gaming in New Jersey.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and I are sponsoring legislation to form a gaming study commission because it is time to have an honest and productive conversation about the future of gaming in our state.

A casino in the Meadowlands may or may not be the answer, but we should at least seriously consider it. We are losing gaming tourists to our neighbors and it is time we bring them back home to New Jersey.

Original article