With the November elections less than three weeks away, proponents of the North Jersey casino expansion referendum are already considering alternative plans in the event of a defeat. The most recent polls indicate that the casino expansion plan will be rejected by voters on November 7, 2016. But that won’t stop campaign spending from both sides going right down to the wire. The hotly contested issue has already seen over $20 million spent on adds.
New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, although not quite conceding the inevitability of a defeat for the North Jersey casino expansion referendum, has crafted a Plan B to get gambling, specifically slot machines, into the state’s horse racetracks. Caputo’s plan will be to amend two bills that he introduced calling for the authorization of video lottery terminals (aka slot machines) in horse racing tracks across the state. Monmouth Park in Oceanport and the Meadowlands in East Rutherford would be on the list to receive slot machines.
The current ballot question referendum for video lottery terminals, as crafted by Caputo, requires asking the public’s permission by way of an affirmative vote. Amending the bills by removing the referendum requirement, by-passes a public vote. Caputo is basing his plan on an opinion written by Attorney General Irwin Kimmelman in 1982. At that time, Kimmelman stated that video lottery terminals would not require an amendment to the state Constitution. Casino gambling is currently limited to Atlantic City by the New Jersey State Constitution. If Caputo’s plan is successful, it would reverse a 1983 ruling written by then Republican Governor Tom Kean. That ruling specified that the state lottery would be barred from using video lottery terminals. If the ruling is overturned, the lottery would be authorized use of the machines with oversight from state gambling regulators.
The horse racing industry in New Jersey has been lobbying for use of slot machines for some time. Neighboring New York and Pennsylvania horse race tracks have slot machines and are referred to as “racinos”.The New Jersey horse racing industry says the state tracks can’t be competitive with the nearby out-of-state tracks and are losing business.
Assemblyman Caputo’s Plan B calls for the slot machine proceeds to be divided to pay prize winners, reimbursement of state expense for administering the slot machines and for 18 percent of the gambling revenues to go to a fund that would help support the horse racing industry. This would be administered by the New Jersey Racing Commission. Of the total money placed in the horse racing fund, 83.4 percent will go to the Standardbred and thoroughbred racing industries to supplement track purses. The remainder of the fund will supplement horse breeding and development programs.