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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Trouble in Referendum Land

The move to have casino gaming in North Jersey via this year's referendum should be getting people in favor of it nervous.  The referendum would, if approved, allow two casinos to open in Northern New Jersey with likely sites being Jersey City and the Meadowlands.  The referendum calls for a portion of tax revenue go to Atlantic City the first few years and provides for at least 2% of casino revenue going to NJ horse racing.

In this case, the Meadowlands isn't just the racetrack, we are talking about the entire Meadowlands Complex, meaning it may not be at the Meadowlands Racetrack where many presumed it would end up.  It seems Triple Five, the current owners of American Dream, the shopping/entertainment complex (which one day may actually become a reality) may wish to put a bid in to become the operator of a potential casino.  The opening of a casino not at the Meadowlands could force the track to slash the stakes program to the bare bones if not worse.

But before worrying who will get the potential Meadowlands bid, people need to worry whether or not the referendum passes.  If the election was held now, the referendum would go down to defeat.   Even with the referendum being roughly five months away, chances for passage are worse than originally thought.  Consider the following:

Governor Christie has threatened not to campaign for the referendum because the bill he proposed to rescue Atlantic City from bankruptcy was not approved in the state legislature.  Laws offering a bail out to Atlantic City finally passed which the Governor signed but it remains to be seen if the Governor comes back on in support of the ballot questions as he threatened to sit on the sidelines; of course, being how popular the Governor is, having him opposed to the proposal may be a plus.

The demise of casino gambling in Atlantic City if casinos open in Northern New Jersey are getting plenty of newsprint in the press with the CEO of Resorts claiming three to five of the remaining eight casinos in Atlantic City would close if gaming comes of Northern NJ. They claim a loss of 23,000 jobs is at risk according to a study Resorts commissioned which will be released within the next week.  Other stories of doom and gloom are swirling seeking to persuade voters, especially those in South Jersey to vote against the referendum.  The benefits of expanded gaming in NJ?  Nothing really being discussed.  Being how popular horse racing is, I am not sure the benefit to racing is really going to resonate with voters.

The campaign in favor of expanding gaming has yet to get into gear.  True, until the AC issue was resolved, it was hard to get a campaign under way and while most of the campaigning will likely take place after Labor Day, but with South Jersey likely going against the referendum (it's only a question of by how much), it will be necessary to win big time elsewhere, especially in North Jersey.  With opponents of gaming presently leading in Northern NJ, and some suggest opposition to expanding gaming is growing,  the time to kick the campaign into gear is now.

The Presidential Election.  It was known it would be harder to get through the noise of a presidential campaign to get the attention of voters and this was before Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee.  With a likely Clinton vs. Trump campaign, it will be even harder to get the attention of the voter unless one of the candidates self destruct as this race will occupy the consciousness of America as if it was the most outrageous season of "The Real Housewives of [fill in the blank]".  Make no mistake, this election will be like a spectacular multi-vehicle accident on the NJ Turnpike; it won't be pretty but most people will be occupied with it which means coverage of the referendum will be diminished in the newspapers and nightly news.

This is not to say a campaign for expanded gaming is doomed to failure but it is going to take a lot more work than anyone thought.  Can the pro-gaming camp raise and spend the amount of money needed to win enough voter support to get the referendum passed?  Only time will tell.

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