Gov. Chris Christie has brokered a deal with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) that will pave the way for both houses of the state Legislature to pass a bill in the next legislative session calling for a voter referendum on casino expansion.The deal, announced Monday afternoon on the final day of the current legislative session, is expected to be modeled after a bill previously submitted by Sweeney — with the addition of a guaranteed $1 billion capital investment for each project, ensuring the casinos will be built as resort-style destinations rather than just gambling halls.
The bill figures to look like this:
- Two new gaming permits will be granted. Both will go to planned casinos at least 75 miles from Atlantic City, though it was widely understood that both will go to counties in Northern New Jersey;
- The permits must go to two different counties (Hudson, Bergen and Essex all have expressed interest);
- Only those currently holding a license to operate in New Jersey will be eligible to apply for one of the new permits (they must be majority owners of the new casinos);
- Prospective permit holders will have to commit to a mandatory $1 billion minimum capital investment;
- During the first 15 years of operation, 49 percent of the public revenue generated by the two new casinos would be pumped back into Atlantic City to assist the city in its economic recovery
The next legislative session begins Tuesday.
If passed as expected, it will go on the ballot as a voter referendum during the presidential election in November.
“This involved a great deal of compromise on the parts of all parties,” Christie said at a news conference announcing the deal. “Nobody here is getting exactly what they wanted.”
Sweeney said he was understanding of why the $1 billion minimum was added, noting that the state should be focused on securing top-level investment.
“We don’t want slots in a box,” Sweeney said.
Prieto added that getting the new bill passed and onto the November ballot will be “priority No. 1” in the upcoming legislative session.
“I’m very happy that we have reached a compromise agreement going into the next session,” he said.
The brokered deal comes after the Senate voted earlier in the day to pass a bill backed by Sweeney that Prieto refused to post in the Assembly, favoring his own plan instead.
Sweeney’s plan has called for two new gaming permits to only be granted to those currently holding a New Jersey license, with the new casinos having to be built in separate counties at least 75 miles away from Atlantic City. Over the first 15 years of Sweeney’s proposal, 49 percent of the public revenue generated by the two new northern New Jersey casinos would be pumped back into Atlantic City to assist the city in its economic recovery.
But Prieto’s plan mandated that just 35 percent of all generated public revenues would go to Atlantic City for the first 15 years required that just one of the two new gaming licenses go to a company already licensed and operating within New Jersey.
Christie did not take questions, but he will be in Trenton again on Tuesday to deliver his annual State of the State address.