Online Gaming Bill Advances as Caputo Makes the Case for North Jersey Casinos

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28), right, with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28), right, with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

A bill to require online gaming companies to identify their brick-and-mortar casino backers advanced Thursday, with an Assembly panel approving the plan from Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28). The combination of online gaming’s rise and the proliferation of out-of-state competition has cut into Atlantic City’s one-time monopoly on gambling, leading to the closure of four casinos in 2014 and the city’s ratable base sinking to all-time lows.

Caputo, a key proponent of a plan to allow new North Jersey casinos with a ballot question and constitutional amendment, said by phone that the online gaming bill would reign in some of Atlantic City’s losses due to online gaming.

“People are not going to Atlantic City because they’re betting on the internet,” Caputo said. “So they’ve lost more patrons, more room occupancies.

“I think it was really counterproductive. It was intended to help Atlantic City, and I don’t think it did. Because whatever they gained they lost on the other end.”

Caputo believes that clearly identifying the casino backers of the state’s authorized gaming websites would help to mitigate the damage by reminding people there is “still plenty to see and do in Atlantic City.”

Ethical considerations, he said, also come into play.

“I think it’s only fair for the public to know which hotel they’re dealing with, because these people — they’re not licensed casinos, they’re actually vendors with these casinos. And that leads into the other discussion of whether or not these companies should be licensed to the same standard as a casino.”

With a new Monmouth poll showing public support for casino expansion in a dead heat and Fitch Reporting predicting the closure of as many as four more Atlantic City casinos if the amendment is successful, North Jersey casinos are far from guaranteed. But Caputo argued that the best way forward is to mitigate the damage to the resort town while bringing the economic boon of new casinos to the state as a whole.

This week’s Monmouth poll shows 48 percent of respondents in favor of expansion, and 48 percent opposed. The report from Fitch, released Thursday, predicts that Trump Taj Mahal, Resorts Casino, Golden Nugget and Bally’s AC would all be at risk of folding if voters approve the amendment.

The expansion bill that Caputo supports would offer up to $200 million in annual state casino tax revenue to Atlantic City, to encourage non-gaming development and a more diverse city economy. The locations of the new casinos are not specified in the legislation, but Jersey City and the Meadowlands have been at the center of lawmakers’ discussions.

“The existing properties are doing somewhat better, some of them,” Caputo said of Atlantic City’s sluggish recovery. “But overall they have not done better. Those numbers are half of what they used to be, almost. Even including the online gaming, which has grown but nowhere near its projections.

“Once these campaigns start, the public will make a decision on whether or not they want gaming in North Jersey,” Caputo said of the ballot question, which is expected to go to voters in November. “I think the prospects are very good about passing.”