The clock is ticking on the Senate and Assembly’s bills to expand casino gaming outside of Atlantic City and into North Jersey, with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) expected to reach a compromise on Atlantic City’s cut of the new casinos’ revenues before Monday. With Bergen’s Democrats on his side and many of South Jersey’s against him, what does Sweeney have to gain as a gubernatorial candidate?
The casino effort, which has seen the Democratic caucus fracture along regional lines, could have serious consequences for Sweeney’s expected gubernatorial bid in 2017 — though some are saying appearances and procedural victories, not results, will be the deciding factor when Sweeney brings his Senate record to bear on the gubernatorial primaries next year.
With Sweeney expected to face Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, the casino question will loom large as Fulop continues to agitate for a waterfront casino at home and Sweeney tries to advance the constitutional amendment in the Senate. But the odds of any new casinos breaking ground before the primaries are slim to none.
New casinos would require an amendment to the state constitution, a process that requires multiple votes in the legislature and a ballot referendum. Beyond the legislative hurtles, casinos would have to place bids, contracts and licenses would need to be awarded, and the casinos’ tax rates would need to be decided. By the time all the necessary votes and bidding wars have taken place, the Democrats’ candidate will most likely be decided.
If a bill leading up to a ballot question doesn’t pass by 3/5 vote before Monday, it would have to go before the Assembly and Senate again next year, before August 4. Casino backers, for their part, have a stake in the ballot question arriving promptly so that they can secure maximum ROI. Any longer and they may get cold feet.
Sweeney could let a compromise with Prieto disappear a year from now and claim a victory for himself if the referendum passes the legislature, or blame the Assembly for botching the deal early if it fails. Fulop, sources say, is counting on being able to get it done once he’s already governor and avoiding the pitfalls of sharing in the blame if it goes down.