Add Newark to the list of potential sites for a casino if New Jerseyans approve a referendum next month.
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Voters will decide whether to authorize two new casinos in the northern part of the state near New York City. The referendum does not say where the casinos would go. But, until now, only two proposals have been made public — one at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford and one in Jersey City.
Now the Berger Organization, which owns land and buildings in Newark, including the Robert Treat Hotel, proposes building a casino on land it owns across from the Broad Street New Jersey Transit station, combining it with the former Newark Bears baseball stadium site.
Company chairman Miles Berger said the casino could be part of a multi-use development that would include a convention center and several parking facilities.
"Newark being the largest city in the state and as well-located as it is, should certainly be one of the locations for a casino when the election is decided," Berger said in an interview this week. "It would be a tremendous boost to the city and certainly a major boost to the neighborhood."
He said he has been in talks with several casino companies about teaming on a project in Newark, but no agreement has been reached. The likelihood that the Nov. 8 referendum will be defeated (it is trailing badly in the polls) removed some of the urgency, he added.
"It was moving pretty quickly several months ago, but the outlook does not look bright right now," he said. "There is no rush here; this could give us a two-year window before it could come back on as a referendum."
If the referendum is defeated, it cannot be reintroduced for at least two years.
Berger said the Newark casino site enjoys excellent transportation access by road, air and rail.
The city of Newark has endorsed the concept of having a casino within its borders; Mayor Ras Baraka held a rally in 2015 in support of a Newark casino.
The referendum asks voters whether to amend the state constitution, which currently restricts casino gambling to Atlantic City.
Expansion supporters say that with the decline of Atlantic City's casino market — five of its 12 casinos have closed since 2014 — New Jersey needs to recapture money that its gamblers are spending in neighboring states. An unspecified portion of tax revenue from the new casinos would be sent to Atlantic City to help cut its reliance on gambling to drive its economy.
Opponents say adding two more casinos to a market that can't even support what it already has will cause three more of Atlantic City's surviving seven casinos to fail.
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