Possibility of casino at Meadowlands in limbo


Plans that could have one day allowed the establishment of a casino at the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford were under way before the recent release of a report from an advisory commission appeared to put those plans on hold for the time being.

The advisory commission was headed by Jon F. Hanson, the former chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA).

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth and Mercer) would amend the state constitution to allow for the establishment of a casino at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey. The legislation would also determine the appropriate division of revenues generated by the casino.

At the present time the only casinos that are permitted in New Jersey are in Atlantic City hotels with a minimum of 500 rooms.

The new legislation consists of two bills. The first bill is a mandate for the NJSEA to solicit bids and award one or more contracts for the building and operation of a casino at the Meadowlands.

The second bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would permit the Legislature to enact laws allowing for casino operation at the Meadowlands complex.

Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment hope to present that option to voters in the form of a referendum. The referendum would ask the electorate to approve the constitutional amendment.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate’s State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.

However, recent developments surrounding the advisory commission’s report on New Jersey’s gaming industry are threatening to send the legislation to the archives.

The origins of the Hanson report date back to the appointment of the advisory commission by Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie asked the advisory commission to provide a report on the state of New Jersey’s gaming industry. The final report, which was released on July 21, looks into different aspects of gaming, sports and entertainment in the Garden State, such as Atlantic City, horse racing, and the Xanadu commercial project in the Meadowlands.

The privatization of the Meadowlands sports complex and the institution of certain state regulation in Atlantic City are two significant suggestions made by the advisory commission, and Christie has voiced his support of both recommendations.

The part of the advisory commission’s report that directly impacts Beck’s proposal is the suggestion that placing slot machines in the Meadowlands is not a viable option.

The report states: “One issue that inevitably arises in the context of a discussion about New Jersey’s racing industry is the possibility of placing VLTs (slot machines) in the Meadowlands to provide an additional source of funding for purses which, it is argued, would in turn contribute to the sustainability of Meadowlands racing.

“This idea has a number of drawbacks: such a move would likely require amending the state constitution; the move would take several years to accomplish and time is already of the essence for the racing industry; and the existence of casinos, racinos and slot machines in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York further exacerbates the problem.”

Although Christie has, in agreement with the advisory commission’s report, publicly opposed the addition of slot machines at the Meadowlands, Beck remains optimistic.

“[The report] is still only a suggestion, so the conversation will be ongoing,” the senator said. “There will be a gaming summit next month and gaming beyond the boundaries of Atlantic City, whether it be the Meadowlands or even Somerset (County), will be a topic of discussion.”

As for the advisory commission’s report, Beck expressed concerned that it is not complete in its analysis of the gaming industry and horse racing.

“The glaring omission from the report is a discussion of convenience gaming. The report advises against placing slot machines at the Meadowlands, but leaves it at that,” she said. “Does it make financial sense to expand gaming beyond Atlantic City? They did not address it.”

When asked about her thoughts on the possibility that the Meadowlands racetrack — currently a state facility that presents harness and thoroughbred racing — could be privatized, Beck was supportive of the idea, but she wants to proceed with caution.

“Does private work at the Meadowlands? Absolutely, but we need to be cautious of the motives” of a private owner, she said.

Beck is also concerned that horse racing was once again left out of the picture.

“The report advocates public-private partnerships when it comes to Xanadu and Atlantic City. What about horse racing? It is extremely hypocritical,” she said.

“Although the report goes so far as to say that changes need to be made, it falls short of exploring all of the options available to us by failing the analyze how much value would be added to racing with the addition of video lottery terminals, table games, or other types of recreational gaming to enhance our racetracks,” said Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth and Mercer).

“While I agree that the horseracing industry needs to make some changes to its business model, it is important to remember that until 2007, the industry was profitable and only lost that profitability when Pennsylvania began to compete for those racing dollars,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth and Mercer). “Racinos in New Jersey may very well be the answer for the salvation of both (the gambling and horse racing) industries.” he said