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SUPPORTERS OF NORTH JERSEY CASINO EXPANSION ACKNOWLEDGE GRIM PROSPECTS IN NOV 8 ELECTION

NorthJersey.com

-- John Brennan, Staff Writer The Record

MANALAPAN, NJ -- October 15, 2016 -- Lawmakers who support an expansion of casino gambling to North Jersey bluntly acknowledged on Friday the unlikelihood that voters will support the proposal when they vote in a statewide referendum next month. “I think this was designed to fail, in many respects,” William Pascrell III, a gambling lobbyist, said at an event at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack organized by the Meadowlands Regional Chamber. “We have to be realistic, and to make sure that this vote is as close as we can make it.”

Pascrell added that if opponents prevail by a margin of 20 to 30 points, for example, it will be more difficult to revive the bid to end Atlantic City’s casino monopoly via a new ballot question in future years. Recent polling has indicated that opponents have that sort of lead, with the most recent Stockton University poll showing 68 percent opposed and only 21 percent in favor.

Related: Most financing for anti-North Jersey casino group comes from NY-based casino operators

The Trenton’s Bad Bet campaign — with more than $11 million in funding for negative advertising provided mostly by three New York casino companies — has left supporters “outmaneuvered” in the public eye, Pascrell said.

“Our campaign was terrible,” said Jeff Gural, the operator of the Meadowlands Racetrack and one of the backers of the OURTurnNJ marketing effort. Gural and Paul Fireman, who had proposed a casino and resort on the grounds of his Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, funded the OURTurnNJ campaign with more than $8 million but suspended it last month, citing grim polling date.

“But I do think there will be a casino in the Meadowlands eventually,” Gural added. “And I predict there will never be a casino in Manhattan.”

Meadowlands Regional Chamber President Jim Kirkos echoed Pascrell’s sentiments, asking audience members to help “keep the vote as close as possible.”

“Why are we struggling to get a ‘yes’ vote?” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge. “We had the epic collapse of Atlantic City government, which turned voters off to casinos. People in Bergen County say, ‘What happened in Atlantic City — do we really want that to happen here?’ And ‘Our Turn’ clearly was not the right message.”

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, a former Atlantic City casino executive, said the spate of poor polling results was “depressing.” While some have blamed the lack of enthusiasm for casino expansion on a lack of specificity in the ballot question, such as the tax rate for the new casinos, Caputo chose a different target.

It was a “huge mistake,” Caputo said, for state lawmakers in January to have added a provision that any winning bidder must have a current Atlantic City casino operator as the principal owner. Caputo said that took away any incentive for casino billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson or Steve Wynn to fund a campaign supporting the ballot question in hopes of later gaining the right to operate a North Jersey casino. Both men previously have expressed interest in such a possibility.
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