Anti-casino expansion group touts grassroots N.J. support

Concept art for the proposed Meadowlands-based Hard Rock Casino
Concept art for the proposed Meadowlands-based Hard Rock Casino

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

New Jersey voters will head to the polls this November and decide whether to end Atlantic City’s struggling monopoly on Garden State gambling.

Which way will it all go?

Roll the dice and hold your breath. The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released last month found 57% of registered N.J. opposed the controversial constitutional amendment while 35% were supportive (down from a 50% to 42% split back in January) but the pro-expansion faction — spearheaded by the ‘Our Turn NJ (a 501c4 public issue advocacy campaign) has the support of leading Democrats, Republicans and Labor leaders; they’ll rely on a tried-and-true playbook and spend big money to move those numbers over the next few months.

The money might not be enough.

In the other corner pushing back?

A competing 501c4 named ‘Trenton’s Bad Bet’ which went up on the air yesterday with TV and radio spots like this one:

Lacking the Trenton political muscle of the pro-expansion faction, Bad Bet is relying on grassroots local leaders, ranging from council members to church pastors, to give backers of North Jersey gaming a run for their money.

“Voters in New Jersey have been left in the dark about casino expansion – we don’t know where they will build the casinos or who will build the casinos,” explained Committeewoman Maureen Smith-Hartman (R-Westampton), a Burlington County elected official, in a release disseminated by Bad Bet. “This blatant lack of transparency is why I stand with Trenton’s Bad Bet in opposing the casino expansion question in November.”

Opposition to the Trenton establishment and the measure itself (as opposed to gambling expansion generally) rests at the core of opponents’ criticisms. Chiefly the fact that the measure doesn’t empower the free market but narrowly grants the right to build two new casinos stepped in political intrigue.

meadowlandsracetrackAn example: the amendment precludes the much-discussed “racino” at the tracks in Monmouth given that the two aforementioned future casinos must be constructed outside a 72 mile A.C. radius which eliminates the endangered Monmouth County Park from contention.

What you would get: a casino backed by donors who’ve supported the politicians backing it.

Whatever Bad Bet ultimately spends on TV and radio might prove less significant than what its diverse coalition represents: a gut-driven reluctance to bring gaming and its many associated challenges to other parts of the state.

“We owe it to our children to provide the opportunities where they can live, learn and find a job here in New Jersey. The only way we do that is by holding our elected officials accountable and we fully intend on doing that,” added Pastor Daniel Martinez of the Randolph Free Methodist Church in Morris County, another Bad Bet supporters.

Perhaps the best bet (pardon the pun) for how this will all turn out was hinted at by Senate President Steve Sweeney who, after Governor Christie, is the measure’s highest profile political supporter and an embodiment of the easy-to-villainize Trenton establishment.

He told reporters last week that he’s “disappointed” in what he views as a poor pro-expansion campaign. The money men behind this thing won’t be pleased. What’s best for New Jersey remains, as ever, another matter that doesn’t factor into the powerbrokers’ deliberations.

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