ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A footwear magnate and a racetrack operator who want to build two new casinos worth billions of dollars in the northern part of the state have concluded that voters will reject the plan in a November referendum, and they're ending their expensive lobbying push for it.
Former Reebok chairman Paul Fireman and Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural said in a joint statement Thursday they are abandoning the Our Turn NJ campaign in support of the referendum, citing internal polling that shows "this measure is very unlikely to pass."
The public question remains on the ballot, and New Jersey voters will still cast ballots on whether to approve two new casinos near New York City. But the end of a high-profile campaign in support of the new casinos by the men who would build them doesn't augur well for its chances.
If the referendum is defeated, proponents would have to wait a minimum of two years before putting it on the ballot again.
Gural said the vote-no side ran a masterful campaign by linking the casino proposal to the unpopular state government in Trenton. The groups bankrolling those campaigns have included unions representing casino workers in Atlantic City and New York, as well as the Genting Group, the Malaysian company that operates the Resorts World casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City.
"I knew there was going to be a lot of money against us, but I didn't realize they would make it all about Trenton and not about casinos," he said.
Gural said he remains committed to his proposal for a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack, and he said he hopes the measure can resurface on the 2018 ballot. But crucial details, such as what tax rate the casinos would pay, who would get that revenue and where the casinos would be located, would have to be determined and shared with voters before the vote, Gural said.
None of those issues will have been resolved before voters cast ballots on the referendum in November.
Internal polling done for Our Turn NJ shows the ballot question failing 50 percent to 37 percent.
Opponents of the referendum, including a group called Trenton's Bad Bet, have blanketed the state with advertisements warning the state government can't be trusted to keep promises about where tax money from the new casinos would go.
Resorts Casino Hotel president Mark Giannantonio, a leader of the No North Jersey Casinos campaign, said his group will continue its efforts until Election Day to educate people "that the expansion of gaming beyond Atlantic City is a bad idea for the whole state."
The referendum will ask voters whether to approve up to two new casinos in the northern part of the state, costing at least $1 billion apiece. Tax revenue from the casinos would be shared among programs to help senior citizens, local communities, the horse racing industry and Atlantic City as it struggles to deal with the contraction of its market from 12 casinos to eight in recent years.
But no details of where the money would go, or even how much there might be, have been presented to voters.
Gural would partner with Hard Rock International to add a casino to the existing track in the East Rutherford sports complex where the NFL's New York Jets and New York Giants play home games, and Fireman proposes building a massive casino resort in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, worth up to $5 billion.
The Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, a strong supporter of the projects, said it was "extremely disturbed" by the news regarding the Our Turn NJ campaign.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Associated Press writer Michael Catalini in Trenton contributed to this story.
This story has been corrected to show the name of opposition group is 'Trenton's Bad Bet,' not 'Trenton Can't Be Trusted.'