TRENTON — The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee endorsed legislation to seek voter approval to expand gaming in New Jersey with two additional casinos in North Jersey. The concurrent resolution, SCR-185, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Paul Sarlo, would have to be approved with three-fifths votes by both houses of the Legislature or majority votes twice over two legislative years before going to the voters.
The public’s approval is needed to amend the state’s constitutional provisions that now limit gaming in New Jersey to Atlantic City.
“The reality is the gaming industry has changed dramatically in recent years,” said Senator Sweeney. “Atlantic City and New Jersey no longer have a monopoly on casinos in the Northeast. We are competing with the casinos that have proliferated throughout the country, including our neighboring states. The casino industry is an important part of the state’s economy that supports jobs, economic activity and provides resources for senior citizens and the disabled. We have to act to regain the casino market.”
The public revenue generated from the new facilities would be dedicated to senior citizens, the disabled, and to support the economic recovery of Atlantic City. The proposal would direct millions of dollars per year back to Atlantic City to revive what is the Nation’s only beach gaming resort. The plan would require that the two new casinos, each in separate counties, be at least 72 miles away from Atlantic City.
Senator Sarlo said that the new casinos will benefit the state’s economy by reviving a gaming sector that is a key part of the tourism industry.
“We must re-capture the finite amount of gaming that is currently leaving the state,” said Senator Sarlo. “New Jersey tourism is one of the most important segments of our economy and gaming is one of the most important attractions for tourism. Expanding gaming is the best way to expand economic opportunity, to create jobs and to compete in the new marketplace.”
The specific locations of the new casinos, the types of casinos and the tax rates would be determined by enabling legislation after the voters approved the amendment.
Under the bill, all state revenue from the new and existing casinos would be directed solely to the Casino Revenue Fund in the first year. In each following year a minimum of $212 million – the amount estimated for the prior fiscal year – would have to go to that fund that aids senior citizens and the disabled.
For the next 15 years, the funding would be shared by the casino fund, a new fund to support the economic revitalization of Atlantic City and counties and municipalities throughout the state to also aid seniors and the disabled. The allocation to the Atlantic City revitalization fund would be capped at one-third of the state revenue.
Two percent of total revenue would be divided between the host municipalities and counties and two percent would go the horse breeding industry.
“This plan will provide the resources needed to help Atlantic City make the transformation into a more diversified attraction that includes gaming, but doesn’t rely solely on gaming,” said Senator Sweeney. “Atlantic City has unique qualities and attractions. It will always be an important destination resort. It is the only beach gaming destination in the country. We can capitalize on that. This plan for Atlantic City’s future but it is also about the state’s future and the future of gaming in New Jersey.”
The decline in the Atlantic City casino industry has been marked by four casino closings in the past two years and a drop in revenue from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $3.0 billion in 2014.
“It’s not only about regaining the gaming industry in New Jersey, it is also about the $4 billion in new investment in North Jersey and the $3 billion for Atlantic City that will go to private sector construction and economic growth over the next 15 years,” said Senator Sarlo.
Since the inception of Atlantic City gaming in 1978, billions of dollars have been generated to aid senior citizens and the disabled. Casino revenues have also produced financial assistance in support of investments throughout the state, including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Yogi Berra Museumand the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The committee vote was 10 -1 with one abstention.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Bob Gordon are cosponsors of the resolution.
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