New Jersey voters Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to expand casino gambling to the northern part of the state.This means that Atlantic City will retain its four-decade monopoly on gaming.
The ballot question appears to head towards failing by more than 1.5 million votes, according to projections made by the Associated Press – which would make it the biggest defeat for any referendum the state has ever seen.
It would overshadow the mark set in 1987 when a plan to build a professional baseball stadium in the Meadowlands fell by nearly 500,000 votes.
With 93 precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, the casino question was failing nearly 78 percent to 22 percent.
The referendum,, which asked voters to amend the state constitution to allow two casinos to be built at least 72 miles north of Atlantic City, was one of the more unusual ones in New Jersey history.
It sparked fierce arguments across the state, drew a record amount of spending among interest groups for and against the idea, and the group supporting the plan – Our Turn NJ – ended its advertising campaign more than a month before Election Day when polling looked dismal.
Reebok CEO Paul Fireman and developer Jeff Gural, the men who funded the group, said in a statement Tuesday night that they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the result.
“We do not view the failure to pass Question No. 1 as a rejection of gaming expansion but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them,” said Fireman and Gural, who proposed building casinos in Jersey City and the Meadowlands Racetrack, respectively.
“New Jersey has to start from the beginning on gaming expansion,” they added. “What the people of this state needs to see is a transparent, competitive plan that outlines in full detail how gaming expansion would.”
Bill Cortese, executive director of opposition group Trenton’s Bad Bet, attributed the result to “a broad coalition of community leaders, unions,small businesses and residents who are convinced that North Jersey casinos would be detriment to the entire state.”
In the end, Atlantic City will remain the only place in New Jersey where casinos are allowed, a status held since voters approved gambling halls there in 1976.
Long before the question was ever put before voters, state lawmakers argued for months over details of how the plan would be formulated. Gov. Chris Christie had to step in to broker a deal between legislative leaders.
Proponents said the expansion would help New Jersey attract gamblers who now skip Atlantic City because a ring of gambling halls opened in neighboring states over the last 10 years. The city has seen five casinos close since 2014 amid the increase in competition.
The North Jersey casino referendum was a fight unlike any other seen in the state.
Supporters claim the plan would have brought in millions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of jobs would have been created. A portion of the revenue would have helped Atlantic City to reinvent itself.
Opponent, however, argued that it would cause even more casinos to close in the financially crippled seaside resort, which is facing the possibility of state takeover to prevent bankruptcy.
They also said the ballot question itself left many questions unanswered – such as how much the new casinos would pay in taxes and where they would’ve been located. Despite the proposals for casinos in Jersey City and at the Meadowlands, the referendum did not specify where they would have been constructed.
Trenton’s Bad Bet launced an ad campaign that seized on the uncertainty, saying residents couldn’t trust state leaders with the expansion. The group was funded in part by Genting New York, which operates Resorts World Casino in New York City and is a subsidiary of Malaysia-based Genting Malaysia Berhad.
A number of polls showed that a majority of voters opposed northern casinos. Towards the end of September, Our Turn NJ suspended its ad campaign.
The more than$24 million doled out for and against the proposal was by far the most ever spent on a New Jersey referendum.
Gordon McInnes, president of liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, which opposed the question,said in a statement that New Jerseyans “responded wisely” because the proposal “was built on big promises that ordinary New Jerseyans ultimately – and thankfully – realized were empty promises.”
Morris Bailey, owner of Atlantic City’s Resorts casino, said Tuesday’s vote was “an important step” for the city’s “return to becoming a world-class resort.”
The issue, however, may not disappear. Some proponents say they expect a similar proposal in future years.