Voters Could Decide Next Year on Allowing Casinos in North Jersey

“I think the northern part of the state — Essex, Hudson or Bergen — are great locations,” said Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo, an Essex County Democrat. “There are 15 to 20 million people within a 50-mile radius.”

Mr. Caputo is a sponsor of the bill that cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday. A separate bill co-sponsored by the president of the State Senate, Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County, was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Both bills call for a public referendum next year on amending the state’s Constitution to allow casinos to operate outside Atlantic City. The Assembly’s version would direct 35 percent of the state’s annual share from the casinos toward the revitalization of Atlantic City for 15 years. The Senate version contains a more complex formula that would dedicate half of the first $150 million in annual taxes to Atlantic City, with the proportion declining gradually as the revenue rises.

Another difference between the bills is that the Senate version would limit the candidates for new casino licenses to the operators of the eight remaining casinos in Atlantic City, while the Assembly bill would allow one licensee to be a newcomer.

Leaders in the two chambers are hurrying to try to reach a compromise in the next few days to meet the deadline for getting the measure on the ballot in 2016, Mr. Caputo said.

Senator Paul A. Sarlo, a Democrat from Bergen County and Mr. Sweeney’s co-sponsor, said that he had been “waiting 14 years to expand gaming to North Jersey” and that “time is of the essence” because the market for gambling in the Northeast was rapidly becoming saturated. He added, “This is really the only way for Atlantic City to survive, with an infusion of nongaming revenues.”

Mr. Sarlo said he hoped a compromise could be reached by Monday. “We’ve got our fingers crossed,” he said. “Talks are ongoing, that’s all I can say.”

The different bills represented “North Jersey and South Jersey making their initial bid at the card table,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.

Ms. Harrison said she believed “some kind of compromise resolution” was likely, primarily because Mr. Sweeney has made it clear that he intends to run for governor in 2017 and needs support from Democratic leaders in North Jersey.

“I would believe that in back rooms, Steve Sweeney is attempting to use this as a chit to get support for a gubernatorial nomination,” she said. Otherwise, she said, Mr. Sweeney would be reluctant to support an expansion that could create additional competition for Atlantic City’s beleaguered casino industry.

“I am not going to betray southern New Jersey and let Atlantic City fall into the ocean,” Mr. Sweeney said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

The advent of casino gambling in Pennsylvania in 2006 siphoned off a large share of gamblers who had been regular visitors to Atlantic City. In 2014, four Atlantic City casinos closed, eliminating about 10,000 jobs and creating a big hole in the municipal budget.

Some elected officials in South Jersey fear that casinos in the northern part of the state would deal an additional blow to Atlantic City. But Mr. Caputo said new casinos were the state’s only hope to stanch the flow of gamblers to other states. When New Jersey voters approved casinos in Atlantic City in 1976, only Nevada had them; now, casinos are operating in all of the neighboring states.

“We’re getting our lunch taken by Pennsylvania and New York,” Mr. Caputo said. “We’ve lost $2 billion of taxable revenues across our borders.”

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