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North Jersey casino ballot question all but dead for 2015

Thursday, July 9, 2015   (0 Comments)
Share | 07/06/15

The odds that voters will be asked to allow casino gambling in north Jersey this November are about the odds of winning the lottery. With a deadline fast approaching, north Jersey lawmakers who have fought to allow casinos in places other than Atlantic City now acknowledge that the effort to get the question on the ballot in 2015 is all but dead in the face of south Jersey resistance. "I'm very disappointed," said state Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), a former casino executive who has led the Assembly effort to expand casino gaming. "I think there was a strategy we could have adopted to get this accomplished. But there are a lot of, let's say, influences that are pushing it a different direction."

The deadline to get the amendment on the ballot is Aug. 3. But, in effect, it's earlier. Lawmakers would first have to pass it with three-fifths majorities in both the state Assembly and state Senate. Before they can do that, the proposed amendment would have to lay on their desks for 20 days, followed by a public hearing. That means they would have to start the process this month.  Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) supports putting the amendment before voters this year, but Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has privately made it clear that he wants to wait until next year. Gov. Chris Christie said in May he supports allowing north Jersey casino gambling, though his approval is not needed for a constitutional amendment.

"The bottom line is that time is running out and it's highly unlikely that it will be on the ballot this year," said state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), another supporter of north Jersey casino gaming. But public opinion is a different matter. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released on June 24 found that 56 percent of New Jersey residents oppose expanding casino gaming, while just 37 percent support it. "That's what FDU says, but there are other polls that say differently," said Caputo, referring to non-public that have been circulated among supporters. And supporters aren't on the same page. For instance, Caputo introduced a proposed amendment that would have allowed three casinos in Essex, Bergen, and Hudson counties. Sarlo, by contrast, favors an amendment that would allow two casinos anywhere 100 miles or more north of Atlantic City, with the details of exactly where they would be to be worked out later. And elected officials from around the state — including Mercer County and as far south as Ocean County — have said their regions should be considered as well.

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