ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Pressure is building on state lawmakers to agree on a ballot question to put before voters asking whether to approve two new casinos in northern New Jersey.
Sens. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, and Joseph Kyrillos, a Republican, called on lawmakers Wednesday to agree on a single plan for the November referendum.
Competing versions of the proposal in the Senate and Assembly differ mainly on which companies would be allowed to own the new casinos.
"Casino expansion will create jobs and generate economic growth for the entire state," said Lesniak, a potential candidate for governor in 2017. "This is an opportunity we have to capitalize on. Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature should work together on a plan that can go to the voters for approval on the next ballot in November of 2016."
Kyrillos said the referendum is too important to be scuttled by partisan politics.
"The entire Assembly, including Republicans and Monmouth County's two new Assembly Democrats, need to wake up and join the Senate's initiative to help save this effort," he said.
The proposal calls for casinos at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford and in Jersey City. The vote to allow the new casinos would amend the state Constitution, which restricts casino gambling to Atlantic City.
The measure would send part of the gambling taxes generated by the new casinos to Atlantic City to compensate for its expected losses to in-state competitors.
But the deadlock has thus far prevented the measure from moving forward. A key deadline passed Tuesday that would have allowed it be approved by simple majorities in two consecutive Legislative sessions; it now must be approved by a three-fifths vote in the new session beginning Jan. 12. That leaves it more vulnerable to opposition from Atlantic City-area lawmakers.
Two unions supporting state Senate President Steve Sweeney, himself a union official and a likely Democratic candidate for governor, criticized Assembly leaders for failing to support Sweeney's bill. The Senate bill would require both new casino licenses to go to existing Atlantic City casino operators, while the Assembly version would apply that requirement to only one.
"The refusal of the Assembly leadership to allow the Assembly to follow through on the compromise Senate plan to expand gaming to North Jersey is a serious blow to the state's economic needs and to the men and women who would be put to work building and operating the new casinos," said William Mullen, president of the New Jersey State Building & Construction Trades Council.
The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters issued a similar statement in support of Sweeney's bill.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says his bill represents a good compromise between the needs of Atlantic City and the rest of the state.
"Anyone who walks away from the Assembly bill at this moment is walking away from a strong compromise bill that would bring jobs and economic development to our state and new ideas and competition to our casino industry," the Democrat said.
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