Voter turnout in Galloway

Citizens sign in to vote at the Assumption Regional Catholic School in Galloway, Tuesday November 8 2016.(The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto / Staff Photographer

Atlantic City will maintain its state monopoly on casino gaming after voters Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a plan to allow two casinos in North Jersey.

With 93 percent of the districts reporting, the casino referendum is failing by a 78 percent to 22 percent margin. 

“We are glad to see the overwhelming support across New Jersey opposing casino expansion,” said Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet, a Newark-based group opposed to the referendum. “We attribute our success to a broad coalition of community leaders, unions, small businesses and residents who are convinced that North Jersey casinos would be a detriment to the entire state.”

The North Jersey casino question appeared on the ballot 40 years after state voters approved casino gaming in Atlantic City.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by tonight’s result,” a statement from Our Turn NJ, a nonprofit campaign favoring the expansion of casino gaming, said. “We have seen for some time now that the people of New Jersey were unhappy with the lack of details on this issue. We do not view the failure to pass Question #1 as a rejection of gaming expansion but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them.”

The question called for the properties to be at least 72 miles from Atlantic City and in different counties.

“We live in a struggling area and like to see us thrive, so I don’t want to welcome competition in North Jersey for casino,” said Melissa Miller, 33, of Galloway Township, as she voted against the question at her polling location in Assumption Regional Catholic School.

Expanding gaming to North Jersey could have forced the closing of three to five casinos in the city, leaving 20,000 to 30,000 more people out of work, Atlantic City casino officials have said.

"Today's vote is an important step for Atlantic City's return to becoming a world class resort. On behalf of the 30,000 employees and their families that rely on the Atlantic City casino industry, we are gratified by the overwhelming defeat of this initiative," said Morris Bailey, owner, Resorts Hotel Casino.

Emily Weary, 23, of Galloway Township, voted no on North Jersey casinos. The local nurse said she had friends and family who have worked and still work in the remaining casinos in Atlantic City.

“It’s a really big part of the industry down here,” she said. “When you’re from somewhere else, it’s easy to say, ‘Let’s do it.’ But when you live down here, you see the impact it would have on people, on their jobs, on their lives, and you can’t say yes to that.”

Independent groups such as Trenton’s Bad Bet and Our Turn NJ spent more than $24 million in the battle over expanding casino gaming, a state spending record for a single ballot question.

Proponents of the plan said a privately funded casino in the Meadowlands would have generated 43,000 construction and permanent jobs and at least $1 billion in new gaming wins, according to proponents of the plan. Proponents of the idea said the taxes generated from the casino would help pay for the city’s transition to a more tourism-based economy.

Jenna Zarella, 24, and her mother, Barbara Zarella, 66, of Ocean City, voted together on Tuesday morning. Both Zarellas voted against North Jersey casinos.

“Economically, it’s going to hurt us down here,” Barbara Zarella said. “If they put those casinos in (North Jersey), no one’s going to come down here.”

But Michele Meeds, 62, of Middle Township, had a different view of the issue, which is why she voted yes.

“You can’t stop competition,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be a model that has worked for Atlantic City, anyway.”

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Twitter @acpresshuba

Started working in newsrooms when I was 17 years old. Spent 15 years working for Gannett New Jersey before coming to The Press of Atlantic City in April 2015.

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