New Jersey votes against North Jersey casinos

Atlantic City casinos are struggling, but that isn't a new development. The Trump Taj Mahal closed last month, costing the city thousands of jobs and shuttering yet another staple gambling destination in a city that was once a destination to bet on. But growing competition in neighboring states has choked demand out of the city and left it scrambling for a payout.

However, the final prospective nail in the coffin for Atlantic City lay on presidential ballots filled out by New Jersey voters yesterday. Ballot question 1 would have OK'd the development of two new casinos in northern New Jersey, near New York City, ending the monopoly Atlantic City has had on casinos in the state since 1976 and removing any need for northern travelers to make the commute south to roll the dice.

But last night the house won again. The issue was shot down by voters 79 percent to 21 percent. The proposal never mentioned where the casinos would be built, but proposals have been located for developments in the Meadowlands, Jersey City and Newark, and some developers are mulling over the idea of installing slot machines at the Meadowlands racetracks in East Rutherford and Oceanport, N.J. It's a controversial strategy, but it may be the only one available because the question cannot be put to a vote again for another two years.

In polling local residents of Atlantic City, the Press of Atlantic City found almost unanimous opposition to the question. Jim Arsenault, 45, of Upper Township, chief legal counsel for Cape May County Board of Freeholders and all other county departments, said in a statement that he voted against the question in order to protect what little draw Atlantic City has left.

"The region would not recover from that kind of competition," he said.

While the stakes were high for Atlantic City, it seems the question's main backers gave up hope on it being passed long before Tuesday. Billionaire investor Paul Firemand and real-estate developer Jeff Gural were the two biggest names attached to the question. Both had plans to build casinos in Jersey City and the Meadowlands, but pulled out of their campaign for the measure in September after polls showed only 24 percent of respondents were in support.

Atlantic City has had a monopoly on New Jersey casino development and operations since 1976.
Others in support said the casinos would create thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, benefitting Atlantic City despite its losses. Though this wasn't enough to sway the general public, not all were in opposition of the bill. Geovanny Torress of Newton, N.J., told The Wall Street Journal that the casino expansions were necessary because of the long drive to Atlantic City, calling the concentration of casinos in one location "not fair." Michele Meeds of Middle Township told the Press of Atlantic City that she voted "yes" on the question in order to force increased competition.

"You can’t stop competition,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be a model that has worked for Atlantic City anyway."