Lawmakers backed away from plans to allow “pop-up” casinos at the Meadowlands Racetrack, but said Thursday they remain committed to their push to expand gambling outside of Atlantic City.
The Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee had put on its agenda two bills that would allow casino gambling temporarily at the Meadowlands, including during the week leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl. But “logistical” problems associated with pop-up casinos and lack of legislative support for amending the constitution to expand gambling beyond Atlantic City, forced backers to pull the proposals.
“We need dance partners,” Committee Chairman Ruben Ramos said. “Right now, we’re dancing with ourselves.”
Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, have said they want to keep gambling exclusive to Atlantic City for at least the short-term.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic issued a statement late Wednesday pledging his opposition to the bills.
"The bottom line — there are no substitutes for gaming in Atlantic City," said Brown, who attended the committee meeting in place of Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, who was traveling out of the country,.
Ramos said the contingent of North and Central Jersey lawmakers who support expanding gambling to other parts of the state were committed to keeping the conversation going, and planning for the eventuality.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.
Several local groups are fiercely opposed to a Meadowlands casino, believing it would harm the $3.3 billion Atlantic City gambling industry by stealing New York and North Jersey customers.
"We will continue to do so, as we continue to face that threat," Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce Chairman Sam Young said of opposition to a Meadowlands casino.
Young made his remarks Wednesday while moderating a panel discussion of casino chief executive officers during the chamber's annual meeting at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in Galloway Township.
Christie has said he wants to give Atlantic City five years from when casino deregulation measures were passed in 2011 to revive its struggling economy.
"I believe we're going to get that five-year window," said Tony Rodio, chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort, who also serves as president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade group representing Atlantic City casinos.
But, Rodio added, "If that turnaround doesn't occur, I would think all bets are off."
Tom Ballance, president and chief operating officer of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, suggested that Atlantic City could best insulate itself from the effects of a Meadowlands casino by continuing its development as a resort-style tourist destination.
Michael Garrity,chief investment officer of Revel, Atlantic City's new $2.4 billion megaresort, indicated a willingness to listen to plans for a Meadowlands casino as long as Atlantic City is part of negotiations for the project. He said that casino-style gambling in North Jersey is not out of the question.
"Ultimately, you have to be prepared and change is inevitable," Garrity said.
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