(TRENTON) — Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman John F. McKeon (D-Essex) and Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee Chairman Ralph R. Caputo (D-Essex) issued a multimedia package Monday on legislation they sponsored that would ask voters to allow the creation of world-class casino gaming facilities in North Jersey; utilize money from the expansion to fund programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents; and aid Atlantic City and the state’s horse racing industry.
Under current law, casino gambling is permitted only in Atlantic City. The proposed constitutional amendment (ACR-1) would allow the Legislature to pass laws to permit casinos in two northern New Jersey counties.
No more than two casinos would be permitted and only one casino would be allowed per county. In addition, each proposed casino would be required to be located in a municipality that is at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.
The eligibility for each initial license to establish a new casino would be limited to those whose majority equity owners:
- are holders of a New Jersey casino license that were operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage by the Legislature of this concurrent resolution; or
- were principal owners of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage, if that principal owner or subsidiary also holds a valid license to own and operate a casino in another jurisdiction with licensing standards similar to those in New Jersey.
Under the proposed amendment, a principal owner is defined as “any person who, directly or indirectly, owns 50 percent or more of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling as of the date of passage.”
If a person described above does not apply for a license within 60 days following the date on which the licensing entity indicates that applications are being accepted, or applies but fails to meet certain progress requirements that will be prescribed by law toward the establishment and operation of a gambling house or casino, any person may apply for that license in accordance with law.
An applicant for a license to establish a casino would be approved only if the applicant commits to and makes an investment of at least $1 billion in the acquisition, construction, and development of the facility in which the casino is located prior to the commencement of gambling operations.
The law would determine the location and type of such casinos and of the gambling games which may be conducted. The law would also determine the tax rate to be levied upon the gross gaming revenues derived from the gambling operations.
The multimedia package consists of a video of remarks in committee and commentary from the members and audio and a transcript of same.
The audio file is available upon request.
A transcript of comments is appended below:
Assemblyman John F. McKeon (D-Essex), Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair:
“Just looking to 2006, we know that casino revenues were $5.2 billion, and I think in this last, 2015 calendar year, that number is about $2.8 billion now. So, all the studies in the world you can do, you can just tell that just based on the numbers, it’s math, that they don’t lie. Between Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, the proliferation of casino gaming has really taken a heck of dent into our aspect of those revenues and that aspect of our economy.
“The bill would allow for two particular licenses; both above a 72-mile safe zone, if you will, north of the safe zone, which we’ll make available on the Web. You can go to any town in New Jersey as to whether or not it’s in, or eligible, versus out and not eligible, and then the general map kind of cuts through the middle of Middlesex County and everything north. What we do know about the casinos is that the two in the north will have to be in two different, separate counties, is the way that it would read.
“And then there is some very important changes to one of the last, gosh, two times that this committee, in the last session had gone through this constitutional amendment. The important changes are that the current Atlantic City operators, so long as they apply, as is required through the law, with the Casino Control Commission, within a 60-day period, will be first eligible. So, if there are two bona fide applications within that 60-day period, then we’ll be dealing with Atlantic City, if you will, operators in North Jersey.
“Secondly, in the enabling legislation, although you won’t see it in the constitutional question, in the language, though, of this bill, we will be certain that they will move forward. That there’ll be benchmarks built in, so the concern that, frankly, the Speaker had – and the sponsor – that an Atlantic City licensee would just sit on it and not move the ball forward, that won’t occur any longer. There will be benchmarks that’ll be built in.
“Finally, the significant change is that there’ll have to be a minimum of one billion dollars invested in each casino. Again, the sponsors’ concern was that they might end up being just kind of ‘slots in a box,’ you know, wherever they might be in one of the two North Jersey casinos and now that isn’t going to happen.”
Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo (D-Essex), Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee Chair:
“First of all, this entire issue has been discussed for probably over eight years – seven or eight years – while I’ve been in the Legislature and it’s been resisted heavily from many parts of the state. But as the city progressed, or didn’t progress, we saw plenty of the disintegration of the gaming industry that affected the tax rate in Atlantic City. For example, the values that were lost on those properties and the tax appeals that the city faces. And the advent of the fact that the administration is looking for additional oversight and possibly a takeover only highlights the problem, in terms of bringing value back to a city that has been completely dependent upon one industry.
“And I understand the concern, because as someone that worked in this industry myself, I’m very familiar with the culture of the business and also the positive nature in which gaming took hold in the southern part of the state and the whole state. But, as time went on, Atlantic City was not able to adjust. And, as you know, in the real world, if you don’t adjust, you become a dinosaur and become extinct.
“So here we are, seven or eight years later, after much debate, much controversy over whether or not this should have been last year, whatever. As the chairman said, and very eloquently put what the issues are in terms of the future.
“This is historic, in terms of the state and what we’re trying to accomplish. This is the first time since 1976, I believe, that the voters will have an opportunity to either support or not support a referendum of this type. There can be no change in gaming without a constitutional amendment that goes before the public. This legislation has been amended, re-amended, continued to be compromised, and what we have before us has the support of the leadership of the Assembly and also the leadership of the Senate and also the leadership of the governor’s office and the governor himself.”
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson):
“And this that we’re seeing today in the Judiciary Committee is a constitutional amendment; is a resolution going out to the voters, for them to decide if they want gambling outside of Atlantic City. And I think, hopefully, this is something that the voters will be open to and will pass, because New Jersey has lost its exclusivity to our surrounding states and casinos have been put outside of our borders and we literally have been bleeding our borders and Atlantic City went from a $5.2 billion industry to a $2.5 billion, which we actually have to help grow their non-gaming.
“And by being able to approve this, by the voters in November, I think it’ll be the start of Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey getting the right revenues that they need for their future.”