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Plans for a temporary casino in the Meadowlands may get more permanent.
Backers of a temporary "pop-up" casino at New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports complex in the week leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl may be backing off that plan in favor of one that would permanently allow gambling in places beyond Atlantic City.
A state Assembly panel was scheduled to discuss the "pop-up" casino proposal Thursday, but did not.
Instead, Chairman Ruben Ramos Jr. suggested expanding the proposed temporary casino referendum to amend the state Constitution to permit gambling at the Meadowlands and other New Jersey locations.
"If we're going to do a referendum, we want to have it be more comprehensive than just a pop-up casino," Ramos said.
Gov. Chris Christie said about two years ago he'd give Atlantic City five years to regain its footing before considering gambling elsewhere in the state. The casinos have been struggling for six years against gambling halls popping up in neighboring states that have sent Atlantic City's revenue plummeting from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $3.3 billion last year. A spokesman for the governor did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Supporters of the horse racing industry, and lawmakers in northern and central New Jersey have long wanted to amend the Constitution to permit casino gambling at the tracks. They say New Jersey's racing industry is slowly dying as tracks in other states have allowed slot machines and more recently, full Vegas-style table games.
The proposal for a temporary casino in the week leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl, to be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, was widely seen as a way to get a foot in the door of a potential northern New Jersey gambling market. With the expected success of such a venture as thousands of fans poured into the New Jersey-New York area for football's showcase game, supporters felt confident that momentum would build for a permanent expansion of gambling outside Atlantic City.
But Atlantic City views the expansion of gambling anywhere outside its borders as a potential death sentence for an already struggling resort that has invested billions of dollars in casino hotels that would suffer greatly as many gamblers flock to options closer to home.
Ramos cited unspecified "timing and logistical concerns" in announcing his decision to postpone consideration of the temporary casino plan.
Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort and head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said he doubts a one-week operation would interest any casino operator.
"It's impossible to have something open for one week and be financially viable," he said. "You can't just throw up a tent and put slot machines in it. The amount of work and preparation that would go into it — you have to have your regulators in place, you have to have surveillance set up and installed. There's no way that would make sense financially."
Rodio said he did not know of any Atlantic City casino operator who has expressed an interest in running a temporary casino at the Meadowlands.
Ramos said the Assembly needs to discuss the proposal further before deciding how to proceed.
New Jersey also is moving forward with expanded gambling options including an Internet gambling bill that could be approved and sent to Christie's desk by year's end, and sports betting, which is mired in a lawsuit brought by the major professional and collegiate sports leagues. The state has said it may begin issuing sports betting licenses by early next year.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC