Not even four years ago, in 2016, voters soundly rejected proposals to expand legal physical casino gambling in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City. However, lawmakers in the state capital Trenton are back at the bit again this week, tabling no less than seven motions and two bills to be debated by the State Senate.
These could see entire counties in the north of the state designated as casino-friendly. There are also plans in motion for video slots terminals at racecourses across New Jersey, as well as a few smaller ‘gambling parlor’ venues that won’t be on the same scale as the big Atlantic City casinos.
Lastly, lawmakers have also been looking at e-sports, competitive computer gaming, and the possibility of legal sports betting on those events for NJ players.
“The Timing Is Not Good”
However, early noises about casino expansion across the state didn’t sound positive.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, who sponsored one of the proposed bills, said, “At this point, we want to make sure that Atlantic City is successful. I don’t see (casino gaming expansion) happening at this point. To be perfectly honest, the timing is not good.”
The question was last put to voters in a statewide referendum back in 2016. After local lobbying group Trenton’s Bad Bet spent millions on lobbying and anti-expansion advertisements, casino expansion was rejected with a massive majority of nearly 80%, or 2.4 million votes.
However, many investors in the city, such as Jim Allen, CEO of Hard Rock Entertainment, think that something needs to change if Atlantic City is going to show continued growth. “Frankly, the town is in worse shape than when we bought the building [Trump’s old Taj Mahal Casino],” he said in a statement to the press last month.
If a person who has invested nearly $500 million in one of the city’s biggest casinos is worried about the future of the area, then it might be prudent for lawmakers to take another look, too.
Allen’s Hard Rock Casino pulled in $310 million in revenue last year, although only $29 million of that ended up as gross profit. This puts the company third on the list of NJ casinos by profit—behind Borgata and the Golden Nugget.
The Hard Rock Casino also hit the headlines this week when it was revealed that President Donald Trump still allegedly owes local Atlantic City contractors somewhere in the order of multiple millions.
The man who once called himself “the king of debt” left New Jersey construction companies, decorators, plumbers, and electricians massively in the hole after his huge 1980s refurbishment of the venue.
By 1991, when the Taj filed for bankruptcy, Trump owed contractors an estimated $20 million–with many of them only getting back 30 cents per dollar (or less) of the money they were due.
However, the current climate in the Garden State is much more favorable for casinos. Record-breaking incomes for many across last year, coupled with the diversification into the state’s newly legal online market, have made bankruptcies like the Taj’s back in the 90s much less likely.
“Atlantic City needs change [and] a new beginning for our community,” said local casino worker union boss Bob McDevitt, referring to the new bills.
One such proposal could see legalized sports betting on esports, like the hugely popular games League of Legends, Fortnite, or Overwatch. This rapidly growing market is now worth $1 billion per year.
Over the past few years, Atlantic City has become a go-to destination for large esports tournaments to hold their events—like the Rainbow Six Pro League, which was held at Harrah’s Resort in 2018.
In 2019, the state permitted a one-off exception for e-sports bettors to allow them to wager on the League of Legends World Championships, a yearly event that attracts tens of millions of viewers across its two-week schedule.
Most of this evidence seems to suggest that failing to allow e-sports betting is an oversight on the part of New Jersey lawmakers, and it’s hopefully something they will be keenly looking at over the next couple of weeks.
We’ll keep you updated on this story and any other online betting and casino legislative news from across the world.