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Gambling Expansion Divide Exists In New Jersey Legislature

Lawmakers in New Jersey are gearing up for a fight, not amongst themselves, but rather with themselves and the governor. The issue on the table is gambling expansion, and the governor has a vastly different view than lawmakers as to how gambling should be expanded.

Lawmakers spent Thursday hearing from dozens of speakers who described their version of gambling expansion in relation to the Meadowlands. The racetrack has been the subject of casino expansion for several years, but lawmakers are just now starting to explore their options of allowing casinos in Northern New Jersey.

"The surrounding states are eating our lunch when it comes to gaming revenue," said Senator Paul Sarlo, one of the proponents of a casino at the Meadowlands complex. "This is not about North versus South, Meadowlands versus Atlantic City. It's about capturing the revenue from other states here in New Jersey."

For much of the past three decades, New Jersey had no rival in the Northeast when it comes to casino gambling. Atlantic City was second to only Las Vegas in overall gaming revenue, and New Jersey was considered to be the second largest gaming destination in the world.

Over the past ten years, much has changed. Macau surpassed both Nevada and New Jersey, becoming the top gaming destination in the world. Late last year, Pennsylvania passed New Jersey in gaming revenue, dropping New Jersey to third in the US. That trend may soon get worse for New Jersey, as Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, and Maine have all added new laws creating new casinos.

Massachusetts could become the biggest danger to Atlantic City in the near future. Massachusetts lawmakers finally ironed out the long-anticipated casino resorts bill that Governor Deval Patrick promised when he took office. Massachusetts hopes to be competing in the gaming industry by the early part of 2013.

Sarlo and other legislators believe that New Jersey needs to expand gambling outside of just Atlantic City. Governor Christie has spent the past two years trying to work with legislative, business, and gaming leaders in an effort to rebuild the AC gaming industry. Voters of the state have authorized sports betting, and lawmakers have passed online gambling regulation laws. Even with the influx of new gaming that Christie has supported, he is not in favor of slot machines anywhere outside of AC.

"I think any conversation about extending gaming to the northern part of the state or any place else in the state is a waste of time," said Christie. "As a practical political matter, it's not going to happen."

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