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North Jersey casinos still a possibility, experts say

Atlantic City’s gaming industry is riding a hot streak this month with the arrival of legalized sports betting and the impending opening of two casinos.

But a bad beat could be in the cards for the seaside resort in the form of an already soundly defeated foe.

Despite a clear defeat at the ballot box in 2016, when nearly 78 percent of voters rejected the idea of expanding casino gaming outside Atlantic City, lobbyists and experts agree the prospects of North Jersey casinos are far from dim.

“We’ve seen casino expansion proponents continue their efforts to expand gaming outside of Atlantic City despite the overwhelming voice back in 2016 and, so, we still remained concerned about that expansion happening,” said Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet, a group that spent more than $14 million fighting North Jersey casino expansion two years ago.

At the start of the 2018-19 legislative session in Trenton, several measures were introduced in support of expanding casino gaming. The most significant is ACR32, sponsored by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, which says the Legislature intends to approve an amendment to the state constitution to authorize casino gambling in the northern part of the state. The resolution was referred to the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, of which Caputo is chairman, but has gone no further.

A call to Caputo’s legislative office in Belleville, Essex County, was not returned.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports expanding casino gaming as a matter of economic opportunity and job creation. Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, both voted in favor of putting the casino gaming referendum on the November 2016 ballot.

Former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, now head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, called reexamining North Jersey casinos a “top priority” during a March meeting with the Meadowlands Regional Chamber. Prieto said he wanted to hold meetings with heads of the Meadowlands American Dream project in East Rutherford to work on a master plan for the entertainment and retail megacomplex that would include a casino.

Cortese said his group will continue to fight North Jersey casino expansion to “protect South Jersey jobs” and the “billions in economic activity” the gaming industry creates in the region.

Locally, Atlantic City Council unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to casino expansion in March, and the Buena Vista Township Committee did likewise in February.

Sports betting at Borgata in Atlantic City

“Atlantic City just doesn’t see the writing on the wall,” said Steve Norton, a veteran casino executive and one of the architects of bringing casino gaming to New Jersey in the late 1970s, adding if the city played its cards right, it could actually benefit from North Jersey gaming.

Norton proposed that a portion of revenue from North Jersey casinos could be returned to Atlantic City for senior and disabled programs and for new partnerships at Atlantic City International Airport, which could expand the market’s reach to major airhubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

Furthermore, Norton said if a gaming operator already in Atlantic City, such as MGM, Caesars or Hard Rock, opened a North Jersey casino, it could offer comp packages for players to visit the oceanside resort.

“Atlantic City should understand that if they get taxes from the Meadowlands, it could be a win-win for everybody,” Norton said.

Bob Ambrose, a gaming consultant and professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said there were valid points on both sides of the issue.

”Expanding casinos within New Jersey’s borders is a voter issue,” Ambrose said. “At some point, I have no doubt the topic will come up again.”

Tony Marino, a local analyst, said sports betting may prove to be the catalyst to reopen the door for expanded gaming in New Jersey.

“The unintended consequence of legalizing sportsbooks at Monmouth Park and Meadowlands racetracks is to give the tracks new ammunition to reopen the argument that they should now be allowed to have video slot machines for their patrons,” he said.

Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural told The Associated Press on Friday he planned to begin offering sports betting July 15.

But not all casino gaming experts are sold on a revival of North Jersey expansion.

“It seems like this effort may be running out of steam,” said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “With casinos fairly well spread around the Northeast, there might not be much more demand for casinos in North Jersey. I think that sports betting might either satisfy the appetites of North Jersey politicians for gaming money, or whet them. ... It all depends on how the public responds.”

Jury reaches guilty verdict in Vadell shooting case

MAYS LANDING — As the forewoman read the guilty verdict for Demetris Cross, a woman sitting behind him stomped her feet, her sobs crescendoing into a wail.

Several people helped her leave the courtroom, physically supporting her as she cried, while the verdict was still being read. One of them stepped back in and shouted, “The law is not equal!”

After three days of deliberations, Cross, 30, of Bridgeton, and Martel D. Chisolm, 31, of Millville, were found guilty of attempted murder Friday in the September 2016 shooting of former Atlantic City police Officer Josh Vadell.

“I’m satisfied with the verdict,” Vadell said outside the courthouse, his voice even. “On the other hand, I feel sadness for the family of the suspects, the defendants.”

“The conviction will be reversed,” said Robin Lord, Chisolm’s attorney, citing numerous errors in the trial, including in jury selection. “I’m confident that it will be reversed.”

Friday evening, Lord said she had filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of her client.

Chisolm and Cross were also found guilty of aggravated assault, robbery, obstruction, resisting arrest and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and robbery. They were found not guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and conspiracy to commit and possess same.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 17 before Superior Court Judge John Rauh.

Both sides of the gallery were full Friday with supporters of the defendants as well as of Vadell.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy said it was nerve-wracking to wait for the verdict, but he was pleased with the outcome.

The charges stem from an early morning response to an armed robbery Sept. 3, 2016, when Vadell and his partner, now-Detective Thomas McCabe, pulled up in their patrol car to Arkansas Avenue in Atlantic City. Vadell was shot in the head and spent weeks in the hospital, underwent intense rehabilitation to relearn basic motor skills and retired from the Police Department at age 30 as a result of his wounds.

The shooter, Jerome Damon, 25, of Camden, fled after McCabe returned fire. Damon was found dead about a block and a half away, and McCabe was later cleared in Damon’s death.

The trial and deliberations lasted more than two weeks and included testimony from experts, the victims from the incident, as well as Vadell and McCabe.

Vadell, whose left side is now partially paralyzed from the shooting, testified his first thought after he learned he was shot was, “I’m going to die.”

The jury asked questions several times over the course of their deliberations. Friday morning, they asked for the definitions of “purposeful” and “knowingly,” two words dealing with accomplice liability.

The jury also requested to hear the recorded testimony of Ralph Gagliano, a forensic toxicologist, who said there was marijuana, alcohol and a toxic amount of PCP in Damon’s blood that night.

Chisolm and Cross could face as many as 20 years in state prison for each first-degree crime conviction and as many as 10 years in state prison for each second-degree crime conviction.

Mays Landing woman uses billboard to help find kidney donor

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Adella Gigliotti sat at her kitchen table with a cup of tea in hand and a bulky folder in the other.

The folder read “Penn Transplant Institute.”

She pulled out a piece of paper and slid it across the table. It was a kidney living donor questionnaire she hopes will be filled out by multiple people by next week.

People she has never met.

Gigliotti, 65, of Mays Landing, was told in October that both her kidneys were failing and she would need a transplant.

She was then put on the transplant list, but knew she needed a way to reach out to the public for help.

Gary Orme, assistant pastor at Victory Bible Church in Hammonton, heard about Gigliotti’s situation from one of her coworkers and decided the church should help. And after Gigliotti told Orme about a Philadelphia woman who used a billboard to find an organ donor, Orme reached out to a churchgoer who worked for Interstate Outdoor Billboards.

Orme said he knew the church and billboard company had to act quickly.

“Because of the point that Adella is at in her life, we thought it was important to do something as soon as possible, and that’s why we acted on it,” Orme said.

So for the past month, drivers on the Black Horse Pike in Mays Landing have seen Gigliotti’s face and phone number on a bilboard along with the message, “I need a kidney. Will you help?”

Less than a month after the billboard went up, six possible donors have called her saying they’d be willing to apply for a transplant.

The plan is to put the billboard up in different spots in South Jersey as Gigliotti gets her final cardiology tests at the University of Pennsylvania. Once the tests are complete, she can interview possible donors to set up a transplant with the university.

A major shortage of organs for transplants exists in the United States, where a person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes and 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant, federal data show. A report shows 95 percent of U.S. adults support organ donation, while only 56 percent are actually signed up as donors, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.

It’s a long process, Gigliotti admits, but the response has made her optimistic.

“People will often say that nobody cares about each other anymore, but the reality is that communities do stick together. People are calling me, asking if they can help donate,” Gigliotti said.

When she ran out of available sick days and couldn’t return to work as a cafeteria manager for the Hamilton Township School District, the district held fundraisers and bake sales to help raise more than $1,000 for Gigliotti’s medical expenses and household bills.

At home, Gigliotti feels the support. On Thursday morning, her daughter, Kayla, straightened up the home while Joe Gigliotti, Adella’s husband, was busy in the living room occupying their granddaughter.

“Without a family, I couldn’t imagine being all alone and having to go through that. To have friends and community helping out, it makes you feel good,” Joe Gigliotti said.


Until her cardiology test comes back, Adella Gigliotti said she can only take the process one day at a time, but she hopes her story will show people the importance of organ donation.

“I never thought about it, myself. You don’t think about these things until it happens to you or your family member, so I hope people can become aware of that,” she said.

Opponents call state bag fee bill a "money grab"

Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora has spent months researching the best way to stop retailers’ thin plastic bags from polluting his township and gumming up the works at the Ocean County recycling facility.

He spearheaded the recent introduction of an ordinance to ban the single-use bags in township stores, and got lots of support from both retailers and residents, he said.

Now, all that work may be for nothing, after both houses of the state Legislature passed a bill Thursday to require stores to charge a 5-cent fee on single-use carryout bags made of plastic or paper.

Most of the revenue from the fee would be sent to the state, while a penny per bag would be kept by the merchant.

Communities try to escape the plastic bag trap

The single-use plastic shopping bag is creating pollution problems that harm marine life, because of the huge number thrown away every day, some becoming litter that ends up in waterways.

If enacted, the state law would supersede any municipal or county laws, except those passed before the state law is final.

“It’s nothing but a money grab by our friends in Trenton,” Spodafora said.

The earliest Stafford can pass the ordinance is Tuesday night, but Spodofora expects the governor to sign the state bill before then.

“It takes away the power of home rule,” he said.

According to the bill, the 4 cents per bag sent to the state would go to its Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund.

But in the 2019 budget also passed Thursday, an estimated $23 million expected to be generated from the bag bill was put into the general fund instead, said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, whose organization opposes the bill and wants a ban on single-use plastic bags instead.

The bill is supported by the New Jersey Food Council, which believes it will reduce reliance on single-use bags.

“(The sponsors) have created a national model that will provide real environmental benefits without unfairly burdening consumers or businesses,” said Food Council President Linda Doherty. “Retailers and customers will also have the guidance of a clear, single statewide policy to help them reduce their usage of and reliance on plastic and paper bags.”

Spodofora said a fee law doesn’t do anything to reduce litter or the amount of plastic in the ocean. He suspects it was passed mainly to help the state with its budget problems.

He said consumers will pay the 5-cent fee, adding to their own costs, but bags will continue to be a problem.

The bill, A3267/S2600, passed by a slim margin and now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy. He can either sign it, veto it in full or conditionally veto it and send it back to the Legislature for changes.

Cleaning up the ocean one hand at a time

ATLANTIC CITY — Clean ocean activists started their day with a beach cleanup at S. Bartram Avenue on Saturday, fanning out over what appeared to be a clean beach to find countless small pieces of plastic, bottle caps and fragments of balloons.

The bill that passed Thursday would apply to chain stores, drug stores, supermarkets and retail stores with more than 2,000 square feet of space. It would not apply to restaurants, or to stores using bags to separate an item that could contaminate another item.

The goal is to cut down on pollution as the bags, especially light plastic bags, often end up in waterways and the ocean. There they degrade into smaller pieces that can be mistaken for food by sea life, sponsors have said.

In South Jersey, Ventnor and Longport have passed ordinances to charge per-bag fees, but both allow merchants to keep all of the fee collected, while Long Beach Township and Harvey Cedars have banned single-use bag use by most stores.

Atlantic County freeholders plan to introduce an ordinance July 3 to ban single-use plastic bags from being brought into county parks, to try to cut down on plastic pollution there, said county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore.

Tittel said the state bill would only make the problem of plastic bag pollution worse.

”We use 4 billion plastic bags in New Jersey, and this bill will not reduce those numbers. Right now, supermarkets pay a penny a bag for the bags they give out. Under this bill, they make a penny a bag, giving an incentive to use more plastic bags,” said Tittel, who is asking Gov. Phil Murphy for a conditional or outright veto.

His supports another bill, A4040, that would phase out non-compostable plastic carry-out bags three years after enactment.

Under the bill passed by the Legislature, no fee would be charged to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or the Work First New Jersey program.

Stores would be required to show the number of bags provided and the total fee collected on the receipt given to the customer.

It also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a public education program on the harmful effects of single-use bags.