By Matthew Sockol
Garden State voters have soundly rejected a public question that if approved would have allowed casino gambling to be established in two counties other than Atlantic County in southern New Jersey.
Before the issue went to voters on Nov. 8, supporters of and individuals affiliated with the state’s horse racing industry said the defeat of the ballot question could have negative implications for their industry, which has faced decreases in purse money and attendance in recent years.
On Election Day, 2.2 million votes were cast against the casino proposal and 642,417 votes were cast in favor, sending the question to defeat, according to results posted online by the New Jersey Division of Elections. The results are unofficial until they are certified by the state.
Under current state law, casino gambling in New Jersey is only permitted in Atlantic City in Atlantic County.
The ballot question did not identify where the two new casinos would have been established. In the months leading up to Election Day, public speculation focused on the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford, Bergen County, and in Jersey City, Hudson County, as possible sites for what would have been New Jersey’s newest casinos.
In fact, the public question only stated that the two municipalities in the two counties that would be allowed to have a new casino had to be at least 72 miles, point to point, not driving distance, from Atlantic City.
Officials representing several Monmouth County municipalities that have ties to horses and horse racing were split on the public question.
Had the public question been approved, the 72-mile restriction would have prevented two racetracks in Monmouth County from becoming a casino: Freehold Raceway (harness racing) in Freehold Borough and Monmouth Park (thoroughbred racing) in Oceanport.
The 72-mile restriction referred to direct, point-to-point distance between Atlantic City and the Monmouth County racetracks, and not to driving distance.
According to a website provided by Freehold Borough officials, a straight path between Atlantic City and Freehold Borough is 59 miles and a straight path between Atlantic City and Oceanport is 69 miles – meaning both municipalities were too close to Atlantic City to be the home of a casino.
Because the racetracks in those municipalities could not be transformed into a casino by virtue of the 72-mile restriction, elected officials in Freehold Borough and Oceanport decided they could not support the public question and passed resolutions opposing the ballot measure.
Officials in Oceanport’s neighboring municipality of Eatontown passed a resolution supporting Oceanport’s opposition to the casino question.
In Howell, the Township Council passed a resolution supporting the expansion of casino gambling outside of Atlantic City, but only if the expansion would provide a dedicated revenue stream for support of Monmouth Park and the New Jersey horse racing industry.
The Howell resolution stated the council’s position that if casinos are permitted to be located outside of Atlantic City, the same legislation must also provide a location in Monmouth Park.
Because the public question would have provided revenue to the state’s equine industry, the ballot initiative received support in Millstone Township and Upper Freehold Township, each of which has a significant equine history.
In Upper Freehold, the Township Committee passed a resolution urging voters to support the public question.
According to the ballot initiative, at least 2 percent of the state’s share of revenue generated from the casinos would have been dedicated for programs designed to aid the thoroughbred and standardbred horse industry in New Jersey each fiscal year.
Officials in Freehold Borough and Oceanport maintained their opposition to the public question because it did not specify how much revenue Freehold Raceway and Monmouth Park would receive.
On Nov. 8, a majority of voters in every county in the state voted against the casino question.
The casino question was defeated in Monmouth County with 220,366 “no” votes to 62,851 votes in favor, according to results posted online by the clerk’s office.
According to results provided by municipal clerks, the vote tally in Freehold Borough was 2,433 “no” to 752 “yes,” in Oceanport, 2,439 “no” to 397 “yes,” in Eatontown, 3,775 “no” to 1,150 “yes,” in Howell, 19,313 “no” to 4,705 “yes,” in Millstone Township, 3,244 “no” to 1,593 “yes” and in Upper Freehold, 1,957 “no” to 1,424 “yes.”
Voters in 457 of Monmouth County’s 458 voting district’s rejected the casino proposal, according to results posted online by the clerk’s office. Residents in District 3 in Upper Freehold gave the question its only victory (427 “yes” to 415 “no”) in a voting district.
The casino question was defeated in Ocean County with 204,914 “no” votes to 38,290 votes in favor, according to results posted online by the clerk’s office. In Jackson, the question was defeated 19,838 to 4,798, and in Plumsted, the question was defeated 2,514 to 1,163.
The casino question was defeated in Middlesex County with 187,976 “no” votes to 54,837 votes in favor.
The results are unofficial until certified by their respective counties.