UNION COUNTY, NJ — Reacting to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s declaration that he may not want a casino located in his city after all, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak issued a statement saying that the new gaming facility would be “more than welcome in Elizabeth,” the largest city in Lesniak’s legislative district.
“If Mayor Fulop doesn’t want a new casino for Jersey City, we will take it for Elizabeth, and we will take the jobs, the economic growth, the private-sector investment and the property tax relief that will come with it,” said Lesniak.
“This will be a multi-billion-dollar facility that could produce 20,000 jobs, leverage up to four billion dollars in private investment and generate 60 million dollars in property tax relief for local residents. We have a marketable location, an available workforce and public officials who will work to get it constructed and succeed. We even have waterfront property. What’s not wanted in Jersey City is an opportunity that is more than welcome in Elizabeth. What is lost to Hudson County will be gained by the entire Union County region.”
Voters in November will decide whether the state constitution should be changed to allow casino gaming outside of Atlantic City.
As recently as last month, Fulop supported an initiative that would bring the gambling industry to north Jersey. Plans for Liberty Rising, a $4 billion dollar resort spa and casino spearheaded by venture capitalist Paul Fireman, is being proposed for a location just outside of Liberty State Park.
Lesniak told LocalSource that a casino in Elizabeth would be a boon for the city’s economy. “Any municipality would welcome a $4 billion dollar private investment that would generate $60 million in property tax revenue and thousands of permanent and construction jobs,” said Lesniak of the proposed casino.
Lesniak said that it is unfortunate that Elizabeth has not seriously been considered as a possible site for casinos, citing its location as the main drawback. “Elizabeth doesn’t have the same view of Manhattan and the New York skyline that makes the Jersey City site so attractive,” Lesniak said.
But Fulop said that after speaking with Atlantic City leadership and community members, he is now rethinking his position on bringing gambling to his city.
“Part of leadership is being able to listen to feedback and being willing to learn more about an issue and to admit when you may be on the wrong side of an issue,” Fulop told LocalSource. “A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend the day with leadership and community members in Atlantic City to learn more on the issue of casinos. I have also spoken to Jersey City community members and casino operators, but I think I need to still learn more on this.
For the last year, I have been on record as a strong advocate for a casino in Jersey City and after listening to the Jersey City community, I am committed to learning more before I advocate for this on the ballot in November,” said Fulop.
Lesniak and Fulop took to twitter in a heated sparring match over the issue. “Keep an open mind and remember Elizabeth is ready willing and able,” tweeted Lesniak.
Fulop shot back. “Don’t you think Elizabeth has enough crime? Not sure why you think casinos are a panacea,” Fulop tweeted.
Lesniak was quick to respond. “We have a lot less crime than JC, get a good night’s sleep,” returned Lesniak.
Fulop tweeted back. “I have no problem sleeping at night. Maybe you can’t say the same for yourself Ray,” he said in response.
Lesniak believes that a casino in Elizabeth could easily compete with casinos elsewhere. “A casino in north Jersey, wherever located, would attract north Jersey residents who are now going to Pennsylvania and New York for casino gambling.”
Lesniak believes that Fulop has thrown something of a monkey wrench into the conversation. “The mayor of Jersey City threw cold water on the Liberty Rising in Jersey City, which was the preferred site because of its great vista of the Manhattan skyline.”
Gaming revenue from Atlantic City’s casinos in 2015 generated $2.56 billion dollars, down nearly seven percent from the prior year. In 2014, revenue dipped below the $3 billion dollar mark, the first time since 1991.