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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Casino Referendum On Tap for NJ - Hold The Champagne

The New Jersey legislature has approved a resolution sending a referendum on a constitutional amendment  to voters this November, seeking to approve up to two casinos in Northern New Jersey.  The referendum specifies only one casino may be built in a county and must be at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.  To get one of the two casino licenses, one must commit $1 billion towards the construction of a casino complex and for the first 60 days, Atlantic City casinos are the only ones who may bid on the project; if no bids are received then bidding is open to outsiders.  The front runners typically mentioned are Jersey City and the Meadowlands.

Before anyone cracks open the champagne, time for a little reality.

First, is the matter of the amendment itself.  The latest polling shows voters are against an expansion of gambling, 49-44%.  Granted, this is before the campaign to approve gaming has begun.  The problem here is the generational divide.  Older people (i.e., the people who are more certain to vote), are opposed to the expansion of gaming by a higher percentage.  Fortunately, with a Presidential election this year, younger voters should be heading to the polls in greater numbers than a typical election.  Presuming South Jersey will be voting against the expansion, it will be important to rally North Jersey voters to get to the polls.    The point is passage is no slam dunk.

Then is the question of needing to partner with an Atlantic City casino.  This is the easy part for with enough capital ready to be invested, it should be easy for the Meadowlands and Hard Rock Cafe to find a partner from Atlantic City to bid for a casino license.

Now about the front runner status.  This is New Jersey, where political influence and campaign donations rule supreme.  While the Meadowlands is one of the front runners, there is another potential bidder for a Meadowlands license, the builder of American Dream Meadowlands, Triple Five Group, the people who built the Mall of America.  They have a lot of money invested in the Meadowlands, and are also lined up to be one of the few bright spots of the Christie legacy, rescuing the failed Xanadu project.  What better to add to your entertainment draw than something for the adults?  Of course, one can't rule out a partnership with the Meadowlands to solidify a bid.

Then the question comes up, what if another site comes into play?  Perhaps New Brunswick, in the center of the state decides it wants to add a casino to its redevelopment portfolio?  Were a bid to come from New Brunswick and it be a winning bid, either the Jersey City or Meadowlands bid loses out in a game of musical chairs.

Don't get me wrong, if the referendum passes, odds are a casino comes to the Meadowlands, the question becomes whose project is it?  This could decide whether or not horse racing in New Jersey gets a cut of the action.

Good Bye Jackson:  Remember when there was talk about resurrecting harness racing at Jackson Raceway?  Kiss that idea goodbye as a proposed Master Plan for the Jackson County Fairgrounds calls for the removal of the harness track.  While replacing the harness track is somewhat melancholic, one can't blame the county; what is the sense of keeping the track on the oft-chance racing may come back when the land can be put to better use?


Anonymous said...

If the Jackson track goes away, it's just an extra nail in the coffin for Michigan harness racing. The coffin's already sealed tight because of everything else that happened.

Marv said...

The nice thing about the referendum is that it constitutionally mandates at least 2% of casino proceeds go to aid horse racing. That means it will be a lot harder to "decouple" in NJ. There is no sunset provision, unlike the aid to AC. Also, it doesn't matter where the 2 casinos are located for racing to get the aid. In fact, it would seem to incentivize putting the casino where revenues would be maximized (like Jersey City and Newark, where mass transit from NYC would be readily available).

As for Jackson, that would be no great loss. It truly was a fair track -- only 6 on the gate and at that you could reach out and touch the 6 horse as the race started. If MI racing needed another venue, there are tons of other fair tracks in the state. Unfortunately, there is no longer an option for Pinnacle Race Course. That track was demolished in January.