Just over a year ago, New Jersey voters stated emphatically they didn’t want casino gambling in North Jersey. They voted 4 to 1 against a ballot question intended to allow a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack and another location — the largest margin of defeat for a ballot question in state history.
Yet this month, the state Assembly approved a bill to allow casino gambling at all of the horse racetracks in New Jersey. The 60 members who voted for it — none from the local 1st and 2nd Districts — apparently could not care less what the voters want or even what the law makes clear.
The bill, introduced last December by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, less than a month after voters spoke, would place the tiniest fig leaf over the expansion of casino gambling beyond Atlantic City: The betting would have to be run through the internet on casino-authorized computers in Atlantic City.
Supporters say online gambling already is legal in New Jersey and this would just allow “internet cafes” at racetracks.
That’s baloney. The bill would allow each racetrack to open a slots parlor with no limit on the number of machines. Racetracks could offer live casino table games — also unlimited by the bill — as long as the dealer was in Atlantic City and appeared on a video screen.
The Casino Association of New Jersey understands this. It has rejected the bill as “an affront to the residents of this state who have clearly voted against the very activity it seeks to permit.”
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney should understand this too. He said recently casino gambling expansion “was crushed” in the referendum and shouldn’t be brought up again soon, if ever.
Sweeney said another public vote won’t happen during his tenure. He shouldn’t allow legislators to vote against the public’s will, either.
State officials are always looking for a new source of revenue, including Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, who supports casino gambling in North Jersey. They and racetrack operators would like to find something to supplement horse racing, which is no longer popular enough to be self-sustaining.
But the odds are excellent something is already in the works — sports betting.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision due in the spring may well allow it in New Jersey. If it does, racetracks already are authorized to offer wagering on sports, which could help them dramatically, as Sweeney has noted.
The Greater Atlantic City Chamber was correct in warning North Jersey casino gambling proponents would be undeterred by the referendum defeat.
The coalition that successfully fought that battle should be prepared, if legislators in the state Senate and a governor are as swayed by money as those in the Assembly, to take the fight to the next level — the courts.
Surely judges would be more respectful of the state Constitution’s restriction of casino gambling to Atlantic City and the people’s overwhelming and continued opposition to allowing it elsewhere.