Will casinos pop up in the Meadowlands?
Lawmakers debate issue, local voices weigh in
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Aug 12, 2012 | 7079 views | 3 3 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GAMBLING IN THE MEADOWLANDS – New Jersey State lawmakers are considering whether to bring casino gaming to the Meadowlands area.
GAMBLING IN THE MEADOWLANDS – New Jersey State lawmakers are considering whether to bring casino gaming to the Meadowlands area.

Whether permanent or “pop-up,” New Jersey lawmakers are looking for ways to bring casino gaming to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. For some Secaucus residents, it could mean more tourists and traffic; for others, it could mean a night of gambling only a few minutes away instead of a drive.

Proponents for the measure say that casino gaming will make the state more competitive against casinos in neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania, while opponents say that the presence of casinos in the north will hurt Atlantic City’s economic recovery and will cost the state jobs, and revenue.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) has authored a bill, ACR53, to establish casinos in Bergen County (where East Rutherford is located) by 2013.

Bringing casino gaming to the Meadowlands requires a constitutional amendment. With major opposition from Gov. Christopher Christie and state Senate Pres. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), it is unlikely voters will see a statewide referendum on the November ballot.

Tapping into a market

Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. (D-33rd Dist.), a Hoboken resident, chairs the Assembly’s Regulatory Oversight and Gaming committee and advocates the amendment. He said last month in a statement that “expanding gaming options to the Meadowlands could strengthen New Jersey against that competition that has already lured customers away.”

Ramos has been a lead advocate on the issue and recently convened a hearing on July 19 in the Meadowlands to hear testimony from both sides.

Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen), a Secaucus resident, testified at the hearing in favor of bringing casinos to the area.
“Atlantic City is always going to be Atlantic City.” – Vincent Prieto
“You see buses everyday leaving here going to Bethlehem Pennsylvania, Yonkers, and Connecticut,” said Prieto.

Prieto said he felt that there was a “universe” of clientele from the metropolitan area that the state is not capturing. These individuals are referred to as “convenience gamblers.”

“It is amazing, the amount of people that come here,” noted Prieto. “People that aren’t going to Atlantic City would come to the Meadowlands…we are next to New York City.”

He said that the Meadowlands district has 8,800 hotel rooms. Secaucus has 13 hotels that are at 90 percent occupancy year-round, with potentially two more hotels on the way.

“We think a casino here would generate about $350 million in tax revenue for the state and all 12 casinos combined in Atlantic City don’t even generate $250 million, “said Jeff Gural, chairman of the New Meadowlands Racetrack, during the hearing held in July.

Eyes on Atlantic City’s turnaround

Christie opposes casino gaming in the Meadowlands and has said that Atlantic City’s five-year plan for economic revitalization should come first.

Christie has touted a $20 million publicity campaign with the slogan “Do AC,” which launched earlier this year to draw more tourists to Atlantic City. He has also has supported the recent opening of Atlantic City’s first new casino in nine years – Revel casino. But Atlantic City’s total revenue for casino gambling has continued to decline, according to Bloomberg news reports.

Christie told reporters in Trenton on July 19 that the conversations about bringing casino gaming to the Meadowlands are a “waste of time.” He said that even if he supported the measure, there was little chance that Sweeney would put forth any such legislation. Sweeney, who represents southern counties, is also behind solely focusing on the economic turnaround plans for Atlantic City. Any bills on the issue would have to be posted by him for votes in the legislative chamber.

North vs. South

Prieto said that the issue has been framed as the north against the south and that thinking the measure is detrimental to Atlantic City reflects “the old way of thinking.”

“Atlantic City is always going to be Atlantic City,” said Prieto. “It has something Mother Nature gave to them – the beautiful beach.”

“Atlantic City has huge, huge hotels, night clubs, [and] all the big stars. Atlantic City is equivalent to Las Vegas,” said Secaucus Councilwoman Susan Pirro, who supports casinos in the area. “I don’t think that is something they are looking to have here in the Meadowlands.”

She said she felt the casinos would be good for the economy.

Secaucus Councilman Gary Jeffas said that he would want to look further into the issue to determine how it would impact residents. He was concerned about the impact a casino would have on traffic in the area.

Prieto said that the area is already saddled with traffic and that casinos would offer revenue to help improve road infrastructure.

Pop-up as middle ground?

Given the slim chances of a permanent casino going up soon in the Meadowlands, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) last month in a radio interview proposed the idea of setting up a temporary “pop-up” casino in the Meadowlands Sports Complex during the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.

Weinberg told CBS radio “putting something right in the area where most of the people will be could attract more visitors, bring more income to the state of New Jersey, and give people who are coming in for the Super Bowl another venue to enjoy.”

However, the measure would still require a public referendum.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace last month said he intends to propose a pilot project over the next four years to create a new policy for gaming in New Jersey, one that will benefit all of New Jersey without hurting the state’s long term goals of revitalizing Atlantic City. He said pop-up casinos would do away with speculation about the impact casinos in the Meadowlands would have on Atlantic City.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

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August 12, 2012
name of FB page is "Save New Jersey Horseracing Allow VLT's at The Meadowlands
August 12, 2012
Trenton pols have been asleep for years while the states gambling and horse racing industries go down the tubes. A casino at The Meadowlands is a no brainer. For more info and links to some great articles on the subject, please "Like" our Facebook page.
August 12, 2012
"Do AC" is highlighting things to do in AC, that aren't casino related. The problem is partially with the approach, since AC is today known for its casinos, but the markets we are advertising to, are the same ones that we have lost to PA casinos and NY racinos. AC needs to attract new markets, preferably ones that have no casino gaming nearby, like the southeastern US. But these metro areas need air transportation, since they are not convenient by car or bus. But this negative, creates a positive in the need for overnight accommodations, adding another profit center, the rooms department to offset some of the loss in casino gaming. New markets, with customers staying a night or two, can offset some of our loss in same day convenience visitors, adding new revenue in rooms, food, beverage, entertainment and retail while creating new casino customers. And these new patrons will not require the same comps, giveaway's and free play as our old customer base has learned to expect.

A Meadowlands casino or racino will take some play from AC, but will bring back north-central NJ customers from PA casinos, and Aqueduct, Yonkers slots; producing more than $300 million in win tax revenue to New Jersey. The Meadowlands location is not only convenient to north-central New Jersey, but is also more convenient to parts of NY City, by rail, car and/or bus. Perhaps some of this tax revenue could be used to support new air service into AC International from new southeastern cities, those with no casino gaming.

As an individual that took part in the successful 1976 referendum, the 1977 Legislation and the opening of the first legal US casino, outside the State of Nevada, I appreciate Governor Christie's position of doing nothing to further harm Atlantic City; at least for the next 4 years. But I would ask him and the NJ Legislature to look at the positive benefits that would accrue to AC and the rest of south Jersey, from the introduction of meaningful new air service into AC International; and weigh this against any casino win and profitability that would be lost to a north Jersey gaming operation.

The line run busses, that I started, only for mid week daytime customers, in November 1978 have now declined from 14 million visitors per year to under 4 million, and the increased cost to this group dramatically increased.

Mid week discounts are not the future of an AC turnaround. We need to look to other sources of profit for our casino/ resorts, and new room demand, translating into higher occupancies and average rates is part of the answer. Relying on other profit centers, seems much more likely than recapturing the $2 billion we have lost to Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and now Maryland gaming establishments. And considering the lower costs of acquiring an AC casino/ resort today, at maybe 10% of the replacement cost, the smaller less profitable members of the AC industry can survive and hopefully prosper on much less casino win. We just need to open AC to new markets, and the State can continue to take a leading position, to turn our "casino destination" into a "resort destination with casinos". And to do this we need air service into AC International, from Southwest, Airtran, Jet Blue, Spirit and/or Allegiant, all visitor friendly airline companies, that concentrate on the vacation markets and destinations in the US. These companies offer the possibility of service from the southeast and southwestern markets that have no casino gaming nearby, and offer a new future for Atlantic City.

Doesn't the trade off seem a positive for AC as well as the savior to NJ racing and breeding?