ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s Senate president said he doesn’t see the state asking voters again whether to authorize a casino near New York City “anytime soon, if ever.”
Steve Sweeney told The Associated Press on Monday he doesn’t think the state Legislature will put a second referendum before voters in 2018 or 2019. Voters decisively rejected a ballot question two years ago to authorize two new casinos in the northern part of the state, and 2018 is the earliest proponents could try again.
But the Democrat from southern New Jersey said that is unlikely.
“I don’t see it anytime soon, if ever,” he said.
The owner of the Meadowlands Racetrack, where the new casino would go, says he’s prepared to wait five years or more to let voters approve the project.
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“I don’t want them to put this on the ballot again until we know it’s going to win,” he told the AP. “If it loses again, it will never happen.”
Gural said the state should wait until New York state opens, or is about to open, three casinos in the southern part of the state. That will likely not happen for at least five more years, Gural estimated.
“However long I have to wait, I’ll wait,” he said. “As soon as New York opens the three downstate casinos, the argument will no longer be about saving Atlantic City. New York and New Jersey will need revenue after this federal tax bill passes, and the one thing a Meadowlands casinos would do is send $500 million a year to the state.”
Gural is partnering with Hard Rock on the Meadowlands casino project. Hard Rock also is converting the former Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City into its own branded casino resort, due to open next summer.
Gural also said the next referendum, unlike the first one, should not earmark aid for Atlantic City, which he said “is doing fine on its own.” The city’s seven surviving casinos have stabilized their finances after a brutal three-year stretch in which five of them shut down, costing more than 11,000 jobs.
Frank Gilliam Jr., a Democrat who will take over as Atlantic City’s new mayor on Jan. 1, called the news “an early Christmas present.”
“That’s music to my ears,” he said. “As an incoming mayor, to know we won’t have to worry about having two sets of casinos at opposite ends of the state for at least five years gives me a greater opportunity to have a strong relationship with the (casino) industry.”
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Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said during the campaign he supports a casino in northern New Jersey as part of a plan to create more jobs. A spokesman for his transition team did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Bergen County Democrat in whose district the new casino would open, said he hoped a referendum could be considered in 2019, but acknowledged the need to get it right the second time.
“It went down pretty decisively,” he said.
The ballot question was rejected by nearly 80 percent of voters. It left crucial questions unanswered, including precisely where the two casinos would have been located; what rate they would be taxed at; and perhaps most crucially, how the resulting tax money would be divvied up among Atlantic City, the horse racing industry, host towns and counties and programs for senior citizens and the disabled.