With proposals to expand casino gambling to other parts of New Jersey gaining momentum, Atlantic City is faced with an existential choice: fight to the end to try to keep it from happening, or accept it as inevitable and extract the most concessions it can from new, in-state competitors.
It’s a question the city and its political and business supporters need to answer soon. Two bills that would ask voters whether to amend the state constitution and expand gambling beyond Atlantic City have been proposed, and lawmakers are touting casino projects in the Bergen County Meadowlands, Jersey City, Newark and central New Jersey.
While crucial details remain to be worked out – including whether the vote will even happen this November – backers of casinos in the northern part of the state, just outside New York City, promise to dedicate a significant share of the new tax revenue they generate to helping Atlantic City recover.
Atlantic City’s mayor, Don Guardian, maintained a conciliatory stance as casino companies in his city shut down four of its 12 casinos last year. But he draws the line at allowing casinos anywhere else. He and others note that a northern New Jersey casino would do well – for a while. With New York state mulling the idea of a casino in Manhattan, a northern New Jersey one could soon find itself in the same situation Atlantic City casinos now face.
“Any casino outside Atlantic City would certainly be detrimental to the amount of visitors and revenue we receive in Atlantic City,” Guardian said. “A casino in north Jersey is going to cannibalize two or more casinos in Atlantic City, and then will lose out to casinos in New York and Manhattan. We need to do everything in our power to keep gaming only in Atlantic City.”