Hard Rock unveils Meadowlands casino project

Andrew George//June 8, 2015

Hard Rock unveils Meadowlands casino project

Andrew George//June 8, 2015

Hard Rock International officially unveiled last week its much-discussed proposal for a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack that it says, if built, could generate over $400 million in new tax revenues for the state.Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said the casino, which would feature 5,000 slot machines and 200 gaming tables, could be operational as early as the summer or fall of 2016 if state lawmakers can work quickly to get a constitutional amendment on the upcoming November ballot for a voter referendum.

With casino gaming currently limited to Atlantic City, voters must approve its expansion beyond the Shore resort’s limits. Lawmakers have until Aug. 3 to get the question on the ballot.

Legislation that would move to place the question on the ballot and authorize up to three casinos across Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties was introduced last week by several Assembly Democrats from northern New Jersey.

“We would go into immediate construction,” said Allen.

Officials said it wouldn’t take long to complete the project’s first phase because of a $120 million investment into the racetrack made in 2012 by Jeff Gural, chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, which operates the site.

“We’re sitting in a building that’s already constructed, and we’d be first to the market,” Allen said.

Allen said estimated construction costs are around $1 billion and the project is expected to create some 2,360 construction jobs “at a minimum.”

And though there is no hotel component to the project, Allen said the completed casino will offer an array of retail, entertainment and dining options.

“We’re not looking to build slots in a box,” he said.

As for the $400 million revenue projection, Gural said he could see that figure climbing to $500 million in the beginning, as long as the Meadowlands project is the only operational casino in northern New Jersey.

Presenting data on the proposed market’s viability, Allen said that there are about 14 million adults within a 50-mile range of the Meadowlands, compared with just 1.5 million adults within the same range of Atlantic City.

But rather than poach from the depleted Atlantic City market, officials said the idea behind the casino is to attract gamblers in the region who have instead taken their business in recent years to closer casinos in Pennsylvania and New York.

While many key legislators from northern New Jersey attended Wednesday’s event and spoke highly of the project, several of their counterparts from the southern half of the state remain opposed to the idea of expanding gaming beyond Atlantic City.

Gural said the project, which calls for some of the generated tax revenue to be sent to Atlantic City, is not about the two halves of the state fighting one another.

“We’re fighting against Pennsylvania and New York,” Gural said. “We’re not fighting amongst ourselves.”

Gov. Chris Christie has recently said that he would not be opposed to a voter referendum on gaming expansion appearing on this November’s ballot.