Gambling in Casinos
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) said attracting entrepreneurs like Wynn is one of the reasons he continues to stick by his plan to ask voters to amend the state constitution to expand casino gambling to the northern part of the state, rather than support a rival bill by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
"I have talked to many individuals that have expressed interest in coming into New Jersey, " Prieto said. "Mr. Wynn is one of those individuals that has shown interest in different sites in the area."
A spokesman for Wynn did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.
Sweeney dismissed Prieto's remarks.
"It's just another excuse, " the Senate president said. "The ball keeps moving."
"Steve Wynn left New Jersey, " he added. "He said a lot of bad things and he walked away."
Top state lawmakers agree that casinos in north Jersey would bring thousands of new jobs and millions in new revenue to the state. They also say it help New Jersey stay afloat in the competitive northeastern gaming market now that Atlantic City — the only place in the state currently allowed to offer gambling — has suffered through years of financial struggles.
But Sweeney and Prieto have introduced competing plans to place a question on November's ballot asking voters to approve two new casinos in north Jersey. And while the Senate and Assembly need to compromise on a single plan for the question to reach the ballot, the sides remain deadlocked.
One of their key disagreements is over who should be allowed to operate the new casinos. Sweeney's resolution requires that each of the new casinos must be owned at least in part by an operator in Atlantic City, which has seen four casinos close and thousands of jobs lost amid increasing competition in neighboring state over the last few years.
Prieto's measure requires that for only one of the casinos. The second would be open to outside operators.
South Jersey lawmakers have argued that any north Jersey casino would cripple Atlantic City. And Sweeney — the south's top lawmaker — said by requiring an Atlantic City operator to run one of the new casinos, it would at least allow cross-promotion that could boost the struggling resort and keep it from fading.
He has repeatedly said he refuses to make more sacrifices that would hurt Atlantic City.
"We have people that invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Altantic City, " Sweeney said. "It's fair for the people who have stayed here, invested here, employed people here, for them to get the initial opportunity."
But Prieto has said that could lead to lawsuits from potential new operators. He also said Atlantic City operators, trying to keep more gamblers from fleeing their region, might simply offer north Jersey casinos with little more than slot machines rather than attractive entertainment complexes to draw new visitors.
Prieto suggested that Wynn is likely to be more attracted to his plan than Sweeney's.
"You want to be able to have someone who wants to come in and put a first-class entertainment destination and casino, " the speaker said. "That is what we want. We don't really want someone to come in and put convenience gaming. That will only capture back that bus traffic that is going ... to Bethlehem and Yonkers."
Sweeney said he is not looking for simple "slot parlors."
"We want to build two nice casinos, " he said. "But we got to realize, too: Depending what you build, there's less tax revenue. It's a balance we have to strike."
WYNN IN ATLANTIC CITY
Four years after state lawmakers legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, Wynn — already a successful Las Vegas casino owner — opened the Golden Nugget there in 1980. It was soon the city's top-earning gambling hall.
But Wynn sold it in 1987 to focus on Las Vegas and vowed to never return to Atlantic City, calling the local government "corrupt and stupid."
Still, Wynn has repeatedly considered returning to Atlantic City since then, though he has decided against it each time. The most recent instance was in 2013, when he considered entering New Jersey's online gambling market. But he withdrew his license application last year.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), a longtime proponent of north Jersey gambling who is one of the sponsors of the Prieto plan, said someone like Wynn shouldn't be forced to partner with another operator.
"Why would we exclude a person like Steve Wynn?" Caputo asked. "I'd be so disappointed if we put a resolution through that excluded people of his caliber."
It is still unclear where the two north Jersey casinos would be located. That will be determined by later legislation.
But footwear entrepreneur Paul Fireman has proposed building a skyscraper hotel and casino in Jersey City, while real estate developer and Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural wants to partner with Hard Rock International at the track.
And Sweeney has said that Triple Five Group, the developer of the American Dream complex at the Meadowlands, is also eyeing a casino there.
Fireman released a statement Wednesday saying he supports "any legislative solution that paves the way for a robust, free-market driven casino licensing process, and creates investment and job-creation opportunities, for the state."
Meanwhile, a key labor leader — William T. Mullen, president of the New Jersey State Building & Construction Trades Council — wrote a letter to Prieto on Wednesday asking him to support Sweeney's plan.
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