ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hard Rock International and the Meadowlands Racetrack are proposing a casino just outside New York City that experts say could be one of the most successful in the country but that Atlantic City fears could put it out of business.
The project the companies will unveil next week could generate $500 million in tax revenue for New Jersey. It could also provide a new source of cash for Atlantic City’s struggling casinos, which have fought the proposal every step of the way as it has been floated and debated in recent years.
Meadowlands Racing Chairman Jeff Gural said the casino would pay a 55 percent tax rate on winnings. Atlantic City’s casinos pay 8 percent.
“I think people will be very pleasantly surprised at the project we will unveil, because I’m prepared to pay the Pennsylvania tax rate, which is seven times higher than the rate in Atlantic City,” Gural said Tuesday. “Our plan is to share some of that with Atlantic City to help them rebuild and recover. I look at this as a win for the taxpayers and for Atlantic City.”
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg told CBS2’s Diane Macedo she’s on board.
“It is going to blossom as an entertainment destination. With the recent restarting of America stream, with the race track that’s already there, I think it would be a great boost to the entire state,” said Weinberg, D-Bergen County.
Atlantic City, not surprisingly, sees things differently. It has opposed every attempt to even consider legislation expanding casino gambling beyond its borders. Last year, four of the city’s 12 casinos shut down, and gambling revenue has been falling steadily for eight years, even without in-state competition. In 2006, Atlantic City won $5.2 billion from gamblers; last year that figure was $2.74 billion.
Gary Hill, executive director of the Metropolitan Business and Citizens Association in Atlantic City, told WCBS 880’s Levon Putney “it’s too early to lay out a proposal for a Meadowlands casino because it’s not even on the ballot or in the Legislature.”
Before it could happen, New Jersey’s Constitution would have to be amended in a statewide vote. Gural said he’s optimistic a referendum could be held this November, as long as a bill authorizing it is adopted by the state Legislature by the end of June.
“I think it is a challenge for this November, but it’s a challenge that I think we need to look seriously at,” said Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Kirkos.
Should that not happen, the project might not go before voters until 2017, Gural said.
“We think this is the year for it,” he said. “In an election year with not a lot on the ballot, it stands a good chance.”
In 2016, a presidential election year, it might be overshadowed, he added.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie gave Atlantic City five years to turn itself around before considering casinos elsewhere in the state, a period that ends next February.
Analysts have said a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, where the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants play, could be among the top-grossing casinos in the country. It is just minutes away from Manhattan and would draw gamblers from the nation’s largest city, which does not have any casinos of its own.
“Hopefully we would put a bridge in so we could connect with what was the Izod Center and the shopping center,” Gural told Macedo.
Residents in East Rutherford said they’d probably vote yes in a public referendum, but didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea of a casino.
“If it was done correctly, I would definitely vote yes,” one man said.
“I don’t see any problem with it as long as they maintain the crowd because look at that place in Queens — there’s shooting, there’s killing. We don’t need that around here,” another man said.
“Atlantic City is hurting enough. How many more casinos do we need?” another said. “They gotta do something, but I don’t know whether that’s gonna be the answer.”
“You can’t just live on the trotters. If they did it where there’s no corruption and things like that, where it could help people, sure,” another man said. “I’d probably go there once very rarely, but I would go. The wife would kill me if I lost money.”
The Meadowlands proposal is just one of several being floated for the northern New Jersey suburbs. Others include a casino in Jersey City, which is even closer to Manhattan, directly across the Hudson River by tunnel or train. A suggested casino in Newark, the state’s largest city, is seen as having much less of a chance of approval. Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, in central New Jersey, also wants to host a casino.
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