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North Jersey casino proposal draws sharp opposition from South Jersey

 New Jersey Assembly members introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow up to three casinos in North Jersey. (Phil Gregory/for WHYY)

New Jersey Assembly members introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow up to three casinos in North Jersey. (Phil Gregory/for WHYY)

A stark geographical dividing line emerged Monday as New Jersey legislators proposed allowing casinos beyond Atlantic City.

Democratic lawmakers from Essex, Bergen, and Hudson counties are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow as many as three casinos in North Jersey.

If voters approve the idea, a portion of the revenue from the North Jersey casinos would go to nongaming development in Atlantic City, said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo of Bergen.

“People are sentimental about Atlantic City. Whether they go there or not, they do not want to see Atlantic City perish,” he said. “If they can see a way of creating jobs and revenue, and also revitalizing a city that needs to be revitalized, I think they’ll be convinced.”

Lawmakers representing Atlantic County disagree; some, including Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, vow to fight the plan because they don’t believe Atlantic City would benefit.

“My judgment or thinking on this is that it would take away revenue,” he said. “So whatever they’re giving, we’re going to be losing.”

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji anticipates a boost to the employment rate and state revenues.

“We could realize 20,000 permanent good-paying jobs, maybe 30,000 indirect jobs, and realize billions in additional gross gaming revenues in the coming years,” said the Hudson County legislator.

Assemblyman Chris A. Brown, who represents parts of Atlantic County, said allowing casino construction in North Jersey would be a blow to middle-class families.

“All of the studies indicate the only thing that gaming in North Jersey will do is cannibalize the market in Atlantic City,” Brown said. “Thus producing less revenue, less money, for our seniors and disabled, less money for the state to spend on road projects and much needed development throughout the state.”

Sponsors of the measure hope it can be on the November ballot, but it’s not clear if that will happen.

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