Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson says he's interested in building a casino in the northern New Jersey Meadowlands if the state allows the expansion of gambling beyond Atlantic City.
Speaking Wednesday at a casino industry forum in Las Vegas, the chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation called the East Rutherford site "a very attractive place" for a casino. The area is home to the Meadowlands sports complex where the NFL's Jets and Giants play, as well as the Meadowlands race track, just outside New York City.
But he also cautioned that the site has potential drawbacks, including eventual competition from the very market he hopes to entice.
"Look, it's a two-edged sword," he said at the American Gaming Association's Global Gaming Expo. He said after investing billions of dollars in the site, New York officials may one day say, "Lookit: They're taking all the New Yorkers' money, and they're sucking it up in that casino in Meadowlands. We gotta open in New York and keep the money in New York."
New York, which has five tribal-run casinos and nine racetracks with slots gambling, is adding four new casinos in three upstate regions, but none in Manhattan — for now. The question could be revisited after a seven-year moratorium.
New Jersey is considering repealing its ban on casinos anywhere but Atlantic City, something northern New Jersey politicians and the horse racing industry wanted long before Atlantic City's decline began in 2007.
Four of its 12 casinos have closed this year, and a fifth, the Trump Taj Mahal, could close in November. Revel, one of the shuttered casinos, is being bought by a Toronto asset management firm that plans to reopen it as casino.
For decades, Atlantic City and southern New Jersey politicians fought off any attempts to authorize casinos in other parts of the state.
But momentum has been building in recent years to allow them elsewhere, and Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate President Steve Sweeney have begun to consider that possibility, which would require amending the state Constitution.
Adelson also is a prodigious donor to Republican politicians, and Christie would dearly love his money for a potential presidential campaign in 2016.
Atlantic City's decline was brought on by increasing competition in the saturated northeastern casino market and worsened by the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy.
When the first casino opened in neighboring Pennsylvania in late 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenues were at their peak, $5.2 billion. Last year they fell to $2.86 billion, and will dip below that total this year with the closure of four casinos.
Adelson joked that the Meadowlands is attractive to him now because Secaucus no longer smells like pig farms.
"When I was stationed at Governor's Island in New York City, I could smell Secaucus. We don't have that anymore. So it would be a very attractive place to do," he said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC