As many as seven more casinos could be built in an already-saturated East Coast gambling market if New York voters approve a ballot measure today.
But in Atlantic City, where casino revenues have already fallen for years in light of increased competition from other states, analysts said the effect the measure might have on New Jersey is debatable.
The proposition would allow seven Las Vegas-style casinos to be built in New York state, with four to be built initially - one in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area. A New York City casino could be built in seven years, or possibly sooner.
New York already has Indian-owned casinos located throughout the state, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to gambling as a way to revitalize the state with millions in gambling revenue.
Last year, Atlantic City saw about $3 billion in gambling revenue, down from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006. Experts have largely blamed Pennsylvania's gambling expansion and, to a lesser extent, gambling in other states.
"The market share we've lost, we've largely lost to Philadelphia and the new properties along Maryland - and maybe to some extent Delaware," said Brian Tyrrell, a senior research fellow with the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "I really don't see a New York expansion having a significant impact on Atlantic City's figures."
Wayne Schaffel, a casino analyst and former Atlantic City casino executive, predicted that the New York expansion, if approved, would have a negligible effect on Atlantic City in comparison to other challenges. New Jersey will launch Internet gambling on Nov. 26, and while many say it will be a boon for the state, Schaffel predicts online gambling will only cannibalize the market as local gamblers opt to play from home.
"What the casino referendum in New York does, is it adds another mark to people's mental checklists. They've already had many options on their checklists of more convenient places to gamble," Schaffel said.
Some in North Jersey have argued that added competition from New York, particularly if a casino develops in New York City, could propel further talk of casinos in the Meadowlands - a move that Schaffel says is inevitable.
At a recent editorial board meeting Gov. Chris Christie, however, said otherwise. The governor has hung serious political investment on the back of Atlantic City, promising to block gambling expansion in New Jersey for five years amid a plan to revitalize the resort. Christie said he'll judge the success of Atlantic City on increases in nongambling revenue and new development rather than gaming revenues.
"If everything in Atlantic City was perfect, gaming revenue would be down," the governor said. "We have competition in Pennsylvania we didn't have before. We have competition in New York we didn't have before. We have competition in Delaware we didn't have before. As a result, day-trippers are going to take the shorter commute."
A recent Siena College-New York Times survey found 60 percent of New York City voters, who are expected to dominate voter turnout today, supported the referendum. The respondents, however, were split over whether voters wanted a casino in New York City, which is included in the proposal.
Cuomo has assured American Indian tribes and horse racing centers with video slot machines that they won't face competition to their five casinos. The racing centers will have a chance to pursue casinos.
Opponents have little money to combat the multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns of a powerful mix of business, gambling and union interests.
On Friday, Caesars Entertainment, which operates four Atlantic City casinos, gave $100,000 to political action group New York Jobs Now Committee, according to New York's Board of Elections filings. The committee has been lobbying to pass the casino referendum.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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