Area Dems make pitch for casino vote

A flock of Democrats in the region have attached their support for a state referendum which – if approved by voters — would permit casino gambling in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties.

The proposed constitutional amendment is being pitched in anticipation of development of at least two casinos – one at the Meadowlands Racetrack by track owner Jeff Gural in partnership with Hard Rock and another in Jersey City near Liberty State Park by golf course owner/businessman Paul Fireman.

Under a legislative proposal, a portion of taxes from North Jersey casinos would be dedicated to non-casino development in Atlantic City, which is staggering from the loss of revenues from the closure of several casinos. South Jersey lawmakers, however, are not yet won over.

“We cannot sit idle any longer,” said Belleville Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex). “We can’t bury out head in the sand anymore because one day we’re going to look up and our gaming dollars will have flocked away to other states. This is not about taking business away from Atlantic City. This is about New Jersey missing out on the available markets in northern New Jersey and the surrounding region.

“With continuously encroaching competition from New York and Pennsylvania, the longer we wait the more out window of opportunity closes. If New Jersey is going to stay competitive, it needs alternatives, and that means putting casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties.”

Under the proposed bill, as in Atlantic City, the state share of revenues from North Jersey casinos would assist senior citiznes and disabled residents, along with the portion earmarked for Atlantic City.

North Bergen Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Jersey City Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, both Democrats, joined Caputo in pushing for the bill to attract gaming tourists and jobs to the area.

Also backing the casino bill are North Arlington Dems, Councilmen Al Granell and Tom Zammatore and council candidate Kelly O’Malley- Velez who reason that a Meadowlands casino would complement other entertainment venues in the area and boost the local economy.

Granell maintained: “It will produce tax revenue, full- and part-time jobs and business opportunities for companies in the region. To me, it’s a no brainer.”

Zammatore said that a Meadowlands casino should be profitable, given its proximity to New York, major counties in New Jersey and Newark Airport. “I don’t see how it would not be successful,” he added.

And O’Malley-Velez said that she was sold on the concept because some of the casino revenue would advance programs for seniors and children.

“In case anyone hasn’t noticed, because of our state’s business climate, companies aren’t flocking to New Jersey lately. Let’s grab this opportunity and make it a reality,” Granell said.

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