Poll finds half of New Jersey residents oppose opening casinos outside Atlantic City

Industries Associated Press

A new poll found that half of New Jersey residents oppose opening casinos outside Atlantic City.

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The idea is being promoted by some lawmakers as a way to raise money that would go to Atlantic City, where casinos are struggling.

Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll released Monday found that 50 percent of New Jersey adults oppose the idea of opening gambling halls outside Atlantic City, while 42 percent favor the idea.

Residents were slightly more upbeat about putting gambling in the Meadowlands than at the Monmouth Park racetrack, if it were allowed outside Atlantic City. But neither site had broad support.

Monday, there emerged too very different takes on the poll: The public gets it, or it doesn't yet know enough about plans for casinos in northern New Jersey.

"Expanding gaming to north Jersey will hurt the whole state," said Assemblyman Christopher A. Brown, a Republican whose district includes Atlantic City. "Voters understand that. There's no reason to build a casino nobody wants."

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State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth, said he believes that many naysayers on casinos outside Atlantic City would change their minds if they learn of the number of jobs and amount of revenue they could bring — and that money from new casinos could be used to support Atlantic City's conversion to a less gambling-centric destination.

"We can't turn away from the fact that so much money is leaving New Jersey," he said, "and so much opportunity is going to be lost."

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, has said he is open to letting New Jersey voters decide through a referendum next year whether to amend the state Constitution and permit casino gambling in locations other than Atlantic City.

Under proposals being considered, the operator of a casino at the Meadowlands race track or elsewhere in northern New Jersey would be taxed at a much higher rate than Atlantic City casinos and a certain as-yet unspecified percentage of that extra revenue would be returned to Atlantic City to help it deal with the in-state competition.

Sweeney said that whatever the percentage ultimately is, the money would be committed in the state constitution to help Atlantic City and could not be diverted to the state's general fund.

With the impending closings of the Showboat on Aug. 31 and Trump Plaza on Sept. 16, and the possible shutdown of Revel if a buyer isn't found at a bankruptcy court auction this week, as many as 8,000 Atlantic City casino workers could be without work by the end of the summer.

People who have visited casinos lately are more receptive to the idea of adding non-Atlantic City casinos, the poll found.

The telephone poll of 819 randomly selected adults was conducted from July 14-20. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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