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A group that backs building casinos in North Jersey has formally entered the campaign, and its supporters include some of the biggest names in state politics.

Our Turn NJ announced it’s pushing for passage of the November referendum to build casinos in two counties at least 75 miles north of Atlantic City.

The group revealed “our support,” including politicians and “community leaders.” The top two names in that first group are state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Other powerful political backers include state Sens. Ray Lesniak and Joseph Kyrillos.

The nonelected backers include several union presidents, the leader of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the head of the New Jersey NAACP and the president of the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Our Turn NJ cites the growth of casinos in neighboring states — and Atlantic City’s falling market share — as the top reasons why New Jersey should open casinos closer to the New York market than the state’s current eight gambling halls, all in Atlantic City.

Two groups have lined up to oppose the referendum on allowing the new casinos. The No North Jersey Casinos Coalition formed in April and claims support from more than 300 South Jersey public officials, union leaders and residents.

A second group, called Trenton’s Bad Bet, went public last week; its leader said the organization is based in Newark. That group claimed support Thursday from a Morris County Methodist minister, and its early backers include leaders of the South Jersey coalition.

Our Turn NJ has gotten early support from the state’s horseracing interests, who see the new casinos as a revenue source for their struggling industry.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, chairman of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, called on Atlantic City officials “to get their heads out of the sand” and support the proposal to expand gaming to North Jersey as the best way to revive the casino industry in Atlantic City.

“The pending closure of the Trump Taj Mahal should serve as a wake-up call for Atlantic City officials to take advantage of the benefits of casino expansion,” Sarlo wrote in a press release.

It “will provide financial resources so that Atlantic City can invest in economic expansion. The city has the opportunity and the ability to become a destination resort that doesn’t rely on casinos alone,” he said.

“Local leaders and local union officials in Atlantic City who are opposed to casino expansion are being short sighted and self defeating,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7237

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Copy editor/writer

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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