Hard Rock, Meadowlands propose long-awaited plan for casino at northern New Jersey racetrack



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ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Hard Rock International and the Meadowlands Racetrack are proposing a casino just outside New York City that experts say could be one of the most successful in the country but that Atlantic City fears could put it out of business.

The project the companies will unveil next week could generate $500 million in tax revenue for New Jersey. It could also provide a new source of cash for Atlantic City's struggling casinos, which have fought the proposal every step of the way as it has been floated and debated in recent years.

Meadowlands Racing Chairman Jeff Gural says the casino would pay a 55 percent tax rate on winnings. Atlantic City's casinos pay 8 percent.

"I think people will be very pleasantly surprised at the project we will unveil, because I'm prepared to pay the Pennsylvania tax rate, which is seven times higher than the rate in Atlantic City," Gural said Tuesday. "Our plan is to share some of that with Atlantic City to help them rebuild and recover. I look at this as a win for the taxpayers and for Atlantic City."

Atlantic City, not surprisingly, sees things differently. It has opposed every attempt to even consider legislation expanding casino gambling beyond its borders. Last year four of the city's 12 casinos shut down, and gambling revenue has been falling steadily for eight years, even without in-state competition. In 2006, Atlantic City won $5.2 billion from gamblers; last year that figure was $2.74 billion.

But before it could happen, New Jersey's Constitution would have to be amended in a statewide vote. Gural said he's optimistic a referendum could be held this November, as long as a bill authorizing it is adopted by the state Legislature by the end of June.

Should that not happen, the project might not go before voters until 2017, Gural said.

"We think this is the year for it," he said. "In an election year with not a lot on the ballot, it stands a good chance."

In 2016, a presidential election year, it might be overshadowed, he added.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie gave Atlantic City five years to turn itself around before considering casinos elsewhere in the state, a period that ends next February.

Analysts have said a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, where the NFL's New York Jets and New York Giants play, could be among the top-grossing casinos in the country. It is just minutes away from Manhattan and would draw gamblers from the nation's largest city, which does not have any casinos of its own.

The Meadowlands proposal is just one of several being floated for the northern New Jersey suburbs. Others include a casino in Jersey City, which is even closer to Manhattan, directly across the Hudson River by tunnel or train. A suggested casino in Newark, the state's largest city, is seen as having much less of a chance of approval. Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, in central New Jersey, also wants to host a casino.


Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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