Question One

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With less than a month to go before New Jersey residents head to the polls, many are still considering how they will vote on Question One – the ballot measure that asks voters to take a stand on whether or not to allow casino gaming in the northern part of the state.

Earlier this year, state politicians released a referendum proposing the development of two new casinos, both of which would be located at least 72 miles outside of Atlantic City. The distance was determined in an effort not to cannibalize the already struggling gaming industry in Atlantic City. 

 While a number of different groups have come out on both sides of the issue since the referendum was proposed, a recent Stockton University poll indicates that 68% of New Jersey residents oppose expanding gaming in the state. 

But the issue is far from being resolved. 

Proponents of the referendum include Paul Fireman, the ex-CEO of Reebok who has proposed a $4 billion-plus casino if the referendum goes through, New York developer Jeff Gural, the horseracing industry and a handful of state politicians promising programs for seniors and children to be funded by the casino tax revenues.

Groups supporting the expansion have said that tax revenues from new casinos would ease the burden on residents to address issues like the depleted Transportation Trust Fund and underfunded state employee pensions. Mike Gulotta, owner of the Deo Volente Farms and supporter of harness racing, last week indicated new casinos could provide revenues of up to $600 million a year

While revenue projections for the proposed casinos have ranged from a few million dollars up to one billion, the fact that there is no tax rate assigned to the potential gaming venues and no location set for new casinos that would allow for effective economic impact analyses, it is near impossible to know what the annual revenues from such development would be. Details like tax rates would not be determined until after the November vote, and the physical development of the gaming complexes could take years, delaying any potential financial assistance to the state and its underfunded ventures considerably. In the interim, residents in north Jersey would not only have to endure additional traffic and construction, but would likely need to financially support the added stress to local infrastructure until the gaming establishments were complete.

The opposition to gaming expansion includes a number of local elected officials, labor unions and chambers of commerce in south New Jersey, as well as a group working across the state called, Trenton’s Bad Bet. According to its website, Trenton’s Bad Bet is comprised of “concerned New Jersey community leaders, unions, businesses and residents.” The group’s only competition in the battle to educate voters on the pros and cons of such a proposal was “OurTurnNJ,” a group that supported casino expansion, but it pulled its public relations budget and TV advertising following poor polling data at the end of September.

The opposition cites numerous state failures, calling them “broken promises” including the American Dream Mall, a project that has already cost tax payers more than $80 million in road and infrastructure improvements for the decades-old project. The continually in-limbo project was recently given $1.1 billion support in state bonds in an effort to move the project forward.

In addition to Trenton’s poor management, the opposition is concerned about how new casinos would impact Atlantic City.  Two years ago the iconic gambling waterfront had a dozen operating casinos, but as of the closing of the Trump Taj Mahal on October 10th, there are now only seven.  Some blame the south Jersey decline on the growing gaming industry in nearby Pennsylvania, but regardless of where you point the finger, the opposition remains steadfast that additional casinos in the state would certainly mean the end of Atlantic City as we know it, leaving thousands without jobs and devastating the south Jersey economy.

While polling clearly indicates that residents are not in favor of the referendum for gaming expansion, neither side is taking that for granted. Proponents met on Friday to strategize a plan to garner more support in the final weeks before the vote. Meanwhile, the opposition continues to work across the state, gathering endorsements and spreading the message of Trenton’s poor management of state budget and failed commitments to New Jersey voters.

If anything is true this year, it is that voters do not always do what we think they will and anything can happen come November 8th. The only question the electorate in New Jersey needs to ask themselves now is: do we trust Trenton to deliver on their casino promises?

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