TRENTON, NJ—Could Middlesex County be home to the next Revel? How about Union, Monmouth, Somerset, or even Hunterdon?
If legislative leaders and Governor Christie have their way in the next election, all five could be possibilities.
After months of obsessive arguments largely focused around how many casinos to allow in Northern New Jersey and where, the state legislature is one step closer to a Constiutional amendment that would expand legalized gambling, in the form of one casino each, to two communities located in two of the thirteen northernmost counties in the state.
If the compromise becomes a reality, New Jersey voters will be asked something like this in November:
Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit casino gambling in two additional counties in this State? At present, casino gambling is allowed only in Atlantic City in Atlantic County.
Only one casino in each of the two counties would be permitted. Each casino is to be located in a town that is at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. The amendment would allow certain persons to apply first for a casino license.
While the Meadowlands Sports Complex in Bergen County is the most commonly talked about potential location for a casino, there has also been talk of, and Mayoral support for, casinos in dense urban areas like Newark and Jersey City.
While the residents of those cities are opposed to expanding the questionable industry to their cities, their supposedly progressive mayors Steven Fulop and Ras Baraka are wholeheartedly in favor.
It's still a longshot that voters will actually approve the amendment, but anything is possible in this year's election, which is expected to see a relatively high turnout.
If approved the question would allow for two casinos in different yet-to-be-decided counties.
The communities that end up with casino licenses might be considered lucky or unlucky depending on who you ask.
Cities that find themselves with casinos in their future can certainly count on jobs, and at least an "investment" of $1 billion.
But critics say the jobs that will be created will mostly be low-wage service positions with little or no benefits and weak job security, and that the casinos will bring negative consequences for the community such as getting more people addicted to gambling.
Unfortunately for the ballot question, Atlantic City is not the best example of a success story, despite having the statewide monopoly on gaming.
That monopoly was once a much bigger advantage, but since other states have welcomed an increasing number of casinos, the market has been increasingly challenging.
Prieto confirmed the compromise would allow for casinos in municipalities at least 72 miles or more away from Atlantic City, which means New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Edison, Woodbridge and several other Middlesex County municipalities could theoretically end up with one of the casinos if the question passes.
And so could a few small coastal towns ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, such as Atlantic Highlands, Keansburg, and Union Beach.
According to the NJ Legislature website, the resolution calling for the Constitutional amendment originally stated that all new casinos would have to be in municipalities located more than 75 miles from Atlantic City.
The change from a 75-mile radius to a 72-mile radius largely flew on the radar, but it made the difference to allow New Brunswick and a few shore communities to make the cut.
Congressman Frank Pallone, who represents those communities at the federal level, said that he is supportive of the idea of building more casinos, but did not indicate whether he would welcome them in his district specifically.
“Congressman Pallone is supportive of casino gambling in New Jersey, as a way to bring economic revenue to the state,” said Pallone.
For his part, longtime New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill declined to give his position on casino gambling in the Hub City, but his spokesperson invited us to ask him in person at a forthcoming sit-down interview.
"The Mayor declined to comment for this article, as he feels the context is still too hypothetical at this point," said spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw.
The battle to build casinos in other parts of the state has been waged for over a decade, but started to heat up this summer.
At the time, Bob Smith, the State Senator who represents New Brunswick, Piscataway, Franklin, Milltown, and North Brunswick, pushed for Middlesex County to be included in the plans, according to a June 1 article by PolitickerNJ.com's Chase Brush:
Right now, discussion among lawmakers centers around a ballot question that would enable gaming in North Jersey, presumably in the Meadowlands or Jersey City.
But state Senator Bob Smith (D-17), Piscataway, and state Senator Kip Bateman (R-16), Branchburg, say not so fast.
Smith reached out to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) amid North-South Jersey headlines to tell him “not fair.” The Middlesex Democrat said Sweeney told him in response, “You have an argument.”
“I think the ideal location would be Central Jersey,” Smith told PolitickerNJ.
“Somerset County is one of the third wealthiest counties in the country,” said Bateman.
“The infrastructure is there,” Smith said. “I think we deserve our fair share. all for it. It could include Monmouth and those other counties in Central Jersey. The point is it shouldn’t be just North Jersey. We might be superior to North Jersey. People in this area far distance to travel to game.”