21 Mar

Referendum for Casinos in North New Jersey: What are they Voting for?

North New Jersey Casino Referendum Announced

Gov. Christie announces North New Jersey Casino Referendum, photo NJ.com

For nearly four decades, New Jersey has maintained that casinos may only be built within the confines of Atlantic City. Now, the state is looking to grant two additional licenses for gambling resorts in North New Jersey, with a referendum scheduled to appear on the ballot in November. But opponents of the plan say voters will be left in the dark when they enter the voting booth.

Assemblyman Chris Brown, a Republican representative of Atlantic County, is adamantly opposed to the construction of casinos outside of his home territory, and he has good reason to be.

First and foremost, Atlantic City casinos are already fairing badly in the newly saturated gambling market of America’s northeast; so much so that 4 of the city’s 12 casinos were forced to shut down in the last few years. It would make sense that additional competition from within the state would only serve to exacerbate matters.

But he’s got a new angle these days in his attempt to derail the licensure of North New Jersey casinos, and that’s the presumption that voters will have an indubitably vague idea of what their voting for come the November referendum.

What’s Behind Door #1?

The only thing to decide upon at this point is whether two more casinos should be built in New Jersey’s upstate region. Lawmakers have yet to lay any framework for the new casinos, and it doesn’t appear they intend to do so unless the referendum is approved.

No legislation has been drafted in regards to who might be eligible for a license, what tax rate they might be subject to, or where they might even be located. Without these details, projected revenue statistics cannot be studied or published to help voters decide.

“These are questions that anyone would ask before they even begin debate,” explained Assemblyman Brown.

“What is the revenue? What is the tax rate? Who’s going to pay for infrastructure improvements near these new casinos? I think these are all fair questions,” he argued.

Supporters Defend Delay in Enabling Legislation

Senator Paul Sarlo [D-Bergen County], who sponsored the legislation in support of amending the state constitution to build casinos outside of Atlantic City, admitted that the minutiae of the proposal won’t likely come until after voters approve the amendment – if it’s approved at all, of course.

“Many of your concerns will be addressed in enabling legislation that will come before this body once a referendum passes,” said Sen. Sarlo.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is expected to run for NJ Governor in 2017, said “we might be able to” hammer out some of the key details prior to the referendum, but offered no commitments in that direction.

“Listen, we’re not trying to hide anything,” he defended the position of the State Legislature. “We will do the enabling legislation soon”, he said, but “how soon, I don’t know.”

You say Tomato…

On the one hand, spending hours, days, weeks, perhaps months on the development of legislation that may ultimately be cast aside by voters seems like a potential waste of time. But in the same token, asking citizens to approve a constitutional amendment, then filling in the most important details that would ultimately provoke voters to either support or oppose that plan, isn’t exactly what the democratic process is all about.

One way or another, the referendum is already slated to appear on the November ballot. How the projected lack of supporting information affects the opinion of voters is yet to be seen.