North New Jersey Casino Expansion Wars Continue
The war over whether or not New Jersey’s live casino-style gambling will be limited to Atlantic City continues in Trenton’s legislative chambers, where the war of words — and lobbying dollars — has refocused on the expansion bill that would allow video-terminal casino games at the state’s pari-mutuel facilities.
As we reported a couple of weeks back, a New Jersey Assembly committee bill gave its initial approval to a bill, A4255, that would create an exemption allowing such video-terminal gambling at the state’s pari-mutuel facilities. Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands are the primary supporters on the bill, which would naturally benefit Freehold Raceway as well. Yet the attention A4255 is now receiving includes foes from across New Jersey’s northern border, who played a big role in defeating last month’s statewide casino-development bill and who continue to work to keep New Jersey’ casino industry from having easy access to the mega-sized New York City metropolitan market.
According to a recent update at NorthJersey.com, the same group of existing casino interests that funded the “Trenton’s Bad Bet” series of political attacks on the failed casino referendum is back at it, this time with A4255 in its sights. Trenton’s Bad Bet maintains a website where it has pummeled all efforts by New Jersey to expand live gambling opportunities beyond Atlantic City.
The ongoing effort is funded by a mixed group of Atlantic City-based and out-of-state interests that have aligned in the competition-blocking efforts. Among those supporting Trenton’s Bad Bet are New York’s Yonkers and Aqueduct racetracks, plus the owners of the under-construction casino in the Catskills, Empire Resorts. Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino is also part of the astroturf lobbying group’s backing, which isn’t that surprising when you remember that Resorts Casino AC is operated by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which also owns and operates the big Mohegan Sun operations in Connecticut and New York.
In other words — and despite its title — Trenton’s Bad Bet is all about keeping New York and Connecticut gambling dollars in New York and Connecticut. The group spent at least $14 million on advertising in its successful targeting of last month’s casino referendum.
In a statement attributed to Trenton’s Bad Bet Executive Director Jim Cortese, the group reiterated its opposition to all such expansion legislation, including the new A4255 bill. Said Cortese:
“Less than a month after residents voted in record numbers against a ballot measure that would have allowed for expanded gaming outside of Atlantic City, North Jersey casino proponents continue their attempts to circumvent the will of the voters by pushing for expanded gaming in the form of video lottery terminals and internet cafes at New Jersey racetracks.
“This continued effort to expand gaming outside of Atlantic City after such a significant defeat at the ballot box is a slap in the face to New Jersey voters and reinforces the case that special interests will stop at nothing to get their way,” said Bill Cortese, executive director, Trenton’s Bad Bet. “New Jersey residents spoke loud and clear that Trenton should focus on more pressing matters starting with meeting pension obligations and ensuring school districts receive adequate funding – not on another attempt to expand gaming to the benefit of billionaire developers.
“Trenton’s Bad Bet remains committed to protecting the 30,000 New Jersey jobs and $2 billion in economic activity that would be lost by expanding gaming outside of Atlantic City. We will continue to work with coalition partners and have an active presence throughout the state in educating residents about the dangers of these new gaming expansion proposals.”
That said, the battle over A4255 will be closer than the lopsided casino defeat, even if many of the same forces are aligned on both sides of the battle. NJ Governor Chris Christie, who supported the failed casino referendum and subsequently ridiculed the state’s voters for giving the measure the thumbs-down, is on record as supporting A4255. Many of New Jersey’s powerful pro-gaming legislators are supporting the bill as well, and this time, the outcome wouldn’t be subject to a public vote.
As A4255 continues its legislative journey, we’ll keep tracking the story. New Jersey seems destined for another round of gambling expansion, even if its not quite clear in what form that expansion will occur.