- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Pleas from Atlantic City business, political and community leaders that allowing casinos in northern New Jersey would devastate the already struggling seaside gambling resort failed Monday to stop New Jersey lawmakers from moving forward with plans for a statewide vote on the issue.

A state Senate committee held a public hearing on the referendum plan, which would ask voters whether to approve two casinos in separate counties at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. It does not specify where they would be built, but the two leading candidates are the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, where the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants play, and in Jersey City, where footwear magnate Paul Fireman has proposed a casino resort costing up to $5 billion.

Sen. James Whelan, the Democratic former mayor of Atlantic City, echoed the findings of an Associated Press assessment of the north Jersey casino proposals that found that they would be spectacularly successful for a while, but could be hurt within a short period of time if New York state allows a casino in Manhattan or elsewhere in New York City.

“We’re not going to have casinos in north Jersey have a 20-25 year monopoly,” he said. “It will be a matter of years before New York City has casinos in Manhattan or in the Bronx. What Atlantic City is experiencing now, north Jersey will experience at that time.”

Whelan said the north Jersey casinos could have the market to themselves for as little as two or three years before facing competition from New York.

Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, predicted two more of Atlantic City’s eight casinos will close when faced with in-state competition, putting 14,000 more people out of work. He also said the millions of dollars in tax revenue from the new casinos that would go to Atlantic City remain too vague to count on at this point.

“We don’t know what kind of revenue will be returned to Atlantic City, we don’t know who it will be returned to or how it will work,” he said.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Bergen County Democrat, said the money would not go to Atlantic City or Atlantic County governments. It would, he said, go to a yet-to-be created private entity that would invest it in Atlantic City’s redevelopment.

He envisions “some type of not-for-profit, private board which will be able to make wise investments in Atlantic City and work with residents for job creation and take it out of the hands of those who frankly haven’t done a good job over the years.”

A second public hearing is scheduled for March 7 in the state Assembly. After that, the bill will be voted on in both houses of the Legislature.

If it is approved by a three-fifths majority in both houses, the ballot question will automatically go before voters in the November election.

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Follow Wayne Parry at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC


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