Residents of New Jersey voted overwhelmingly against a ballot measure Tuesday that would allow for the construction of two casinos outside of Atlantic City. With over 2.8 million votes cast, the “No’s” destroyed the “Yes’s” 2,201,768 to 633,034.
Casino gambling was legalized in New Jersey in 1976, but restricted them to being located only in Atlantic City. This worked great for some time, as Atlantic City became the gambling hub of the east coast. But with the rise of competition in neighboring states such as Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, Atlantic City’s gaming economy has suffered. As such, lawmakers became interested in expanding gambling to northern New Jersey, bringing casinos closer to residents in that part of the state and hopefully enticing them to stay within state when looking for gaming entertainment.
The text of the New Jersey Allowance for Casinos in Two Additional Counties Amendment, listed as Public Question 1 on this week’s ballot, was as follows:
Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit casino gambling in two additional counties in this State? At present, casino gambling is allowed only in Atlantic City in Atlantic County. Only one casino in each of the two counties would be permitted. Each casino is to be located in a town that is at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. The amendment would allow certain persons to apply first for a casino license.
Going into further detail, the amendment would have required the new casinos to be built no closer than 72 miles from Atlantic City. Current casino operators in the state would have gotten first dibs on licensing; they would have had six months to submit casino proposals. If no proposals were received, the application process would have been opened to operators outside of the state.
A good chunk of the new casinos’ revenue would have actually gone back to Atlantic City to help that area in its economic recovery. For the first seventeen years, Atlantic City would have received as much as $200 million per year. That figure would have then begun to decline.
There were three primary groups fighting over this amendment. On the support side, there was Our Turn NJ, which raised nearly $9.5 million in its campaign to see casino gambling expanded north. On the opposition side, two groups were formed: Trenton’s Bad Bet and the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition. Together, they raised almost $13.7 million. Most of that money – $8.21 million – came from Genting New York LLC, which owns the Resorts World Casino near the JFK airport.
WA Residential Urban Renewal Co. and New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC – companies that both wanted to build casinos in northern New Jersey – were the top donors in support of the measure, the former contributing about $5 million and latter about $4.5 million. The stopped contributing in late September, as polling showed overwhelming opposition to the amendment. With 71 percent of respondents saying they would vote “no,” it only made sense to stop throwing away money.
More money was spent for and against this referendum than any other referendum in the state’s history.