On Election Day, decades after the first casino opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey voters were tasked with deciding if casinos could be built close to New York City. The overwhelming majority said that brick-and-mortar casino gambling should remain exclusive to the seaside gambling town.
While the tally isn’t official yet, the referendum is expected to have fallen short by a whopping 1.5 million votes, according to a report from NJ.com. If that figure holds up, it reportedly would be the largest defeat ever for a ballot question in Garden State history.
Early numbers showed that nearly 80 percent of voters rejected the ballot question, which called for an amendment to the state constitution to allow gambling elsewhere in the state.
Four Atlantic City casinos closed in 2014, and the Trump Taj Mahal closed last month thanks to a labor dispute. Revel, the most expensive casino in the city’s history, is slated to reopen early next year. It never turned a profit when it was open previously.
Chances for New Jersey casino expansion were bleak in the months leading up to Election Day. Poll results prompted former Reebok chairman Paul Fireman and Meadowlands Racetrack chairman Jeff Gural, who both pitched north Jersey gambling projects, to end an expensive media campaign.
A record $24 million was spent on both sides of the New Jersey casino question.
The two businessmen issued a joint statement following the results.
“We do not view the failure to pass Question No. 1 as a rejection of gaming expansion but as a rejection of our state’s current political climate and a failure to have all the facts presented to them,” they said, hinting that the question could eventually come up again.
“New Jersey has to start from the beginning on gaming expansion,” they added. “What the people of this state need to see is a transparent, competitive plan that outlines in full detail how gaming expansion would work.”
North Jersey casinos had the support of Gov. Chris Christie and the majority of Garden State lawmakers, but gaming interests and officials in Atlantic City opposed the idea.
Experts predicted Atlantic City would lose an additional three casinos if the referendum was successful. It could have also threatened Revel’s reboot.
Through the first nine months of this year, Atlantic City gaming revenue was $2 billion, up 1.6 percent compared to the same period a year prior. Gaming win went from a high of $5.22 billion in 2006 to just $2.56 billion in 2015.
Atlantic City’s first casino opened in 1978, and over the next seven years gaming win increased an average of 55 percent year-over-year. Growth over the next 20 years averaged under five percent, and then it sharply declined over the next decade.
The good news for Atlantic City is its online gambling industry. Through September, the online casinos had gaming revenue of $144.5 million. Online gambling generated nearly $149 million in all of 2015.
The New Jersey casino referendum was one of three gambling-related ballot questions across the country in 2016. A proposal to allow a casino in Tiverton, Rhode Island was approved by 55 percent of voters, while an initiative that called for a second slots parlor in Massachusetts was rejected by 60 percent of voters.