ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The owner of a New Jersey racetrack who wants to build a casino there says the proposal can wait for six years.
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Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural said Thursday that a proposal to have Hard Rock International build a casino at the track in East Rutherford, near New York City, can wait until New York state opens three more casinos, which he said should happen in about six years.
At the East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, he guaranteed a casino will eventually be built in northern New Jersey but said waiting until New York is breathing down New Jersey's neck is the best way to get a casino expansion referendum passed.
A proposal to allow two new casinos in northern New Jersey handily lost in a referendum in November.
"I can last as long as it's going to take," Gural said. "I'd rather wait six years until New York is either open or ready to open, and then voters will say, 'Wait a minute.'"
Still smarting from the overwhelming defeat of last year's referendum, Gural and some northern New Jersey politicians who favor one or more casinos in their region said it wouldn't be wise to race a new referendum to the ballot box. A new referendum cannot go before voters until 2018 at the earliest.
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But Gural said waiting will increase the measure's chances.
"I don't want to try again and lose again," he said. "It would be very difficult to lose twice and have it pass on a third try. The best way to ensure I win is to have New York open three casinos just over the bridge."
Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen said a six-year delay doesn't faze him.
"We're in it for the long haul, whether it's a year or six years," he said.
The question of whether to allow casinos outside Atlantic City has roiled the state for the past seven years, particularly as Atlantic City experienced a decade of plunging revenues, lost jobs and the closing of five casinos since 2014.
Supporters say a northern New Jersey casino would be among the most successful in the nation — at least until New York opened nearby competition.
But Gural said he is prepared to forgo a few years of profitability in northern New Jersey in order to get the referendum passed — even if that means going head to head with three new competitors in the vicinity. Having more and more casinos compete for the same customer base has been a leading cause of casino difficulties and losses, particularly in Atlantic City.
Gural is not concerned.
"We're slicing up the same pie, but there's enough people" in the region for all to prosper, he said.
Hard Rock International, Gural's partner in the Meadowlands casino venture, recently bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino and will reopen it in summer 2018.
State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a north Jersey Democrat, said the state Legislature plans to put another referendum before voters, but would not commit to a time frame.
"This can't be dropped," said Caputo, a former Atlantic City casino executive.
But Chris Brown, a Republican who represents the Atlantic City area, repeated his oft-stated warning that a north Jersey casino will eliminate more revenue from Atlantic City than it will generate at the Meadowlands.
"A north Jersey casino will simply cannibalize Atlantic City," he said. "The state will wind up with less revenue."
Tom Ballance, president of the Borgata, said 70 percent of Atlantic City's customers live within 15 minutes of another gambling option. When a north Jersey casino opens, that figure will rise to 85 percent, he said.
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