A pair of Northeastern states placed brick and mortar casino expansion measures on the ballot this year, but voters in New Jersey and Rhode Island arrived at very different conclusions on election day.
NJ Says No to Casino Expansion
In New Jersey, voters decided on Public Question 1 – officially known as the “New Jersey Allowance for Casinos in Two Additional Counties Amendment” – which sought to expand land-based casinos to two counties north of Atlantic City. Since 1978, the casino industry in New Jersey has been restricted to Atlantic City only, but passage of Public Question 1 allowed for casino projects to be built in Jersey City and the Meadowlands Racetrack.
In all more than 1.5 million votes were cast on the measure, with 78 percent of New Jersey residents opposed to casino expansion beyond Atlantic City’s borders. Over 1.17 million voters were against the referendum, while only 330,000 or so voters favored construction of additional casinos outside of the struggling gambling district. This disparity made Public Question 1’s defeat the most decisive referendum rejection in New Jersey history.
As was typical in the heated campaign season, proponents and detractors of the casino expansion measure flooded New Jersey airwaves with advertisements defending both positions. Per a report published by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, campaign spending directly related to Public Question 1 topped $24 million by November 2nd.
One of the leading lobby groups working to defeat casino expansion outside of New Jersey was known as “Trenton’s Bad Bet.” The group was partially funded by Genting New York – operator of Resorts World Casino in New York City – which viewed a New Jersey casino near the Meadowlands only 30 miles from its own venue as undue competition.
In a statement celebrating the referendum’s defeat, Trenton’s Bad Bet’s executive director Bill Cortese commented on the statewide opposition to casinos outside of Atlantic City:
“We are glad to see the overwhelming support across New Jersey opposing casino expansion. We attribute our success to a broad coalition of community leaders, unions, small businesses and residents who are convinced that North Jersey casinos would be a detriment to the entire state.”
Rhode Island Approves Tiverton Casino Pending Local Vote
Voters in Rhode Island faced a similar ballot measure, known as “Rhode Island Twin River Casino in Tiverton Question 1,” which would allow for the construction of a $75 million casino project in the small town of Tiverton.
The final statewide margin on Question 1 was 428,790 (55.37 percent) votes in favor, to 345,602 (44.63 percent) against.
Located just 380 feet from Massachusetts’ southeastern border, Tiverton would be home to Rhode Island’s third brick and mortar casino after operator Twin River Management Group transfers its current license from the Newport Grand casino.
John Taylor, chairman of Twin River, has stated that proximity to Massachusetts and its gambling-favorable population was a motivating factor.
“We’re positioning that casino to be closer to the markets that we serve. Being in Tiverton is much more proximate to where those customers are coming from.”
Despite securing statewide approval, the casino project cannot be officially approved unless Tiverton residents pass a concurrent local measure titled Question 8. As of November 10th, the Rhode Island Board of Elections website shows passage of Question 8 to hold a slim lead, with 3,927 (51.9 percent) of the town’s voters passing the measure, and 3,644 (48.1 percent) in opposition to a new casino in their area.