Developer pitches Jersey City casino, but law limiting gambling would need to be changed

New Jersey lawmakers say a venture capitalist wants to build a $4.6 billion casino in Jersey City, a move that would be possible only if the state would make a major policy change and allow casinos outside of Atlantic City.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who said he was briefed on the plan about a month ago, says the plan calls for a more than 90-story hotel and residential tower, the world's largest Ferris wheel and a car-racing stadium that could seat more than 100,000 fans.

The plan was first reported by The Star-Ledger.

The investor behind the push, he said, is Reebok founder Paul Fireman. Fineman, who is based in Boston, did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press.

"This Paul Fireman guy is the real deal," Lesniak said. "This is a solid proposal and he's willing to put the money up for it."

For years, Lesniak has been calling to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City and then use part of the revenue to boost that resort city, which has been struggling for years largely because of increased competition in nearby states. Online gambling through the state's casinos, which became legal last year, has failed so far to be the savior its proponents were hoping for. One casino — The Atlantic Club — closed in January and two others — Revel Casino Hotel and Showboat Casino Hotel — have warned that they could, too.

It would take a state constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling outside of Atlantic City. Lesniak would like to see lawmakers take quick action to put it to a public vote on this November's ballot, but a public vote is unlikely until at least next year.

Since Fireman's group has begun briefing politicians, Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate President Steve Sweeney have both talked about the possibility of allowing casinos elsewhere in the state.

Lesniak said the Jersey City proposal near Liberty State Park would be comparable only to casinos in Macau, the Chinese city that has become a gambling destination. He said something that impressive is needed to be an attraction with a pull large enough that it won't simply cut into Atlantic City's existing business.

"This will compete with Macau and exceed it," said Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth. "What Macau doesn't have is the metropolitan area and the New York skyline."

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a former casino executive and the chairman of the Assembly's tourism and gaming committee, noted that the plans are preliminary.

He said the tax rate on any northern New Jersey casino's revenues should be at least 50 percent — far higher than the 8 percent Atlantic City casinos pay. And he said that unlike the Atlantic City's newest casino, Revel, there would be no tax incentives to help fund construction.

Caputo said that despite Atlantic City's problems, casinos are still a powerful means for the state to generate revenue year after year.


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