Showdown looms northern NJ casino vote

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers will face off over competing plans for a statewide referendum on expanding casinos to the northern part of the state.

But there's a good chance neither will advance to Gov. Chris Christie's desk, if the unblinking stances taken by Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly remain in place.

Senate President Steve Sweeney says the possibility of casinos in north Jersey will be "dead" if his plan is not enacted on Monday, the final day of the legislative session. Getting a bill passed in the next session will require additional votes that Sweeney predicts won't be there.

He promises his bill will pass the full Senate, and he called on Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to adopt the Senate measure and vote on it Monday.

The Senate bill would require that both new casinos be owned by companies that already own an Atlantic City casino; the Assembly would only apply that requirement to one of the new licenses. The bills also differ on how much of the gambling tax revenue generated by the new casinos would go to Atlantic City to compensate it for the expected loss of business from new in-state competition.

Most of the remaining revenue — after payments to the state's horse racing industry and to communities that host the casinos — would go to programs and tax relief for senior citizens and the disabled statewide.

Christie, the main casino workers union in Atlantic City, and several construction unions have endorsed Sweeney's bill; the mayors of Jersey City, Newark and Paterson are among those backing the Assembly measure.

With both sides digging in their heels, there's the possibility that neither bill will pass both houses Monday. In the next session, lawmakers have until August to pass a bill putting in place a referendum in time for the November general election, but it needs to pass by a three-fifths majority, leaving it vulnerable to opposition from Atlantic City-area lawmakers.


Follow Wayne Parry at