ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Most New Jerseyans oppose expanding casino gambling beyond Atlantic City, and also oppose granting state tax breaks to casino companies, according to a poll released Monday.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll shows 56 percent of voters surveyed are opposed to casinos anywhere else but in Atlantic City. Thirty-five percent say casinos should be added elsewhere in the state.
"The appetite to expand casino gambling options beyond Atlantic City for New Jerseyans is not there yet," said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and a professor of political science at the university.
With Atlantic City mired in a 5½-year slump brought on by the opening of new casinos in states all around it, the drumbeat to allow casinos in the Meadowlands sports complex and at the state's four horse racing tracks is growing louder, particularly among northern New Jersey politicians and the horse racing industry.
But the New Jersey casino industry, backed strongly by southern New Jersey politicians and Gov. Chris Christie, says allowing casinos in other places could decimate Atlantic City's multi-billion-dollar casino market. Christie says the resort needs at least five years to enable reforms he proposed and were implemented by the legislature to have a chance to succeed.
Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort and head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said he is encouraged by the poll numbers.
"It supports the position that the Casino Association and the governor have taken, that we need to focus on Atlantic City and not expand to other parts of the state," Rodio said. "The majority of people in New Jersey feel that way, and it's the exact right course of action."
But Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a Democrat from northern New Jersey, is trying to get a Constitutional amendment on the ballot next year that would allow casino gambling in the Meadowlands and other areas.
"When things are not going your way, it's time to re-assess," he said. "There's a downturn in the economy, there's fierce competition from other states, and we've seen billions of dollars in casino revenue leaving the state. The facts speak for themselves; they just need to be communicated to the public."
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a southern New Jersey Democrat, opposes expanding casino gambling beyond Atlantic City.
"In the 1970s, when statewide gambling was first proposed, it was rejected by the voters," he said. "It was not until it was narrowed down to one location - Atlantic City — that it was approved."
But circumstances have changed since then, including the possibility of Internet gambling being approved in New Jersey and possibly nationwide, Burzichelli acknowledged.
When it comes to tax breaks like those received by the new $2.4 billion Revel casino to help it open, the poll found 49 percent oppose such state aid, while 41 percent approve.
"As Atlantic City continues to struggle with declining revenues, tax credits for developers on the backs of taxpayers may be seen as a government 'bailout' to some and as a 'jobs creator' to others," Jenkins said.
But the poll also found 76 percent of respondents have heard "very little" to "nothing" about the tax incentives. A Revel spokeswoman declined to comment on the poll results.
The statewide telephone poll of 901 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Previous PublicMind polls in 2010 and 2009 also found opposition to expanded gambling outweighed support for it. But a 2010 Quinnipiac University poll found narrow support for placing slot machines at New Jersey's race tracks.
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