TRENTON – As the end of the year approaches and the legislature runs out of time to reach a compromise on casino expansion in lame duck, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) said that while he isn’t ruling out a deal that would bring a referendum to voters sooner rather than later, he feels as conflicted as the rest of his South Jersey colleagues in the Assembly and Senate. He had harsh words after the hearing for Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), who took the spotlight during Monday’s meeting of the Senate Labor Committee.
“If there’s any compromise, it has to be done today,” said Sweeney afterward. “This is not an easy thing, to live in South Jersey and be supporting something like this.”
Talks are underway between the Assembly and Senate to effect a compromise on Atlantic City’s cut of revenues, with Sweeney hoping to resolve the issue with Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) before the end of the day. Sweeney has been caught between his southern constituency’s interest in keeping gaming gaming restricted to Atlantic City and the North’s desire to capitalize on interest in gaming before the market cools any more than it already has.
The committee heard testimony from Brown, who repeated his call for the legislature to hold off on allowing a constitutional amendment allowing new casinos until further studies can be done on the economic consequences for his home district, which encompasses Atlantic City and County.
On Brown’s bullishness and its contrast with the rest of the South Jersey delegation’s willingness to compromise, Sweeney said he believes Brown’s motivations have more to do with drumming up electoral support than any sincere hope of stopping casino expansion.
“We’ve done what we’re required to do constitutionally. We’ve had the hearing,” said Sweeney of Brown’s demand for additional studies, adding that additional hearings would only be a chance for Brown to “holler and scream and showboat for political purposes.
“Some people can sit back and throw bombs, but what’s their plan?”
Casinos in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut have left Atlantic City reeling, with several casinos closing and surrounding areas suffering from some of the worst unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country. Another casino will be opening soon in neighboring Philadelphia.
“The only way to help recreate Atlantic City is to provide funding for it, and that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said of revenue from new casinos. Following up on his repeated slams against the local delegates as ineffectual and ill-equipped to bolster tourist revenue on their own, Sweeney was clear on what the terms of a deal will be under his plan.
“We do not want to give any money to the government, nor will we give any money to the government,” he said.