If you follow the money, the result of tomorrow's scheduled referendum vote on whether to expand legal gambling to Northern New Jersey will likely be defeated. Opposition groups have spent $14.4 million fighting the legislation compared to $8.6 million spent to support it, according to the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Even more telling is the fact that $3.1 million of the opposition side's total was spent in the last two weeks while just $100,000 of the pro-side's $8.6 million was spent in the past two weeks. Both sides are reading the tea leaves, and passage of the legislation looks to be a long shot.
New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D), who co-sponsored Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 206, told TheStreet that an outsized amount of out-of-state money from New York has helped sway the vote. That total apparently includes $50 million not counted by the ELEC that Caputo says was given to Super Pacs opposed to the referendum.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's position on the referendum has evolved since he signed a five-year moratorium on expanding gambling in the state in 2011. In May 2015, Christie reportedly told a New Jersey radio station that he "certainly would be publicly supportive of getting this question [of casino expansion] done as quickly as we could so that we can proceed to expand if that's the will of the people... I think given the competition around us, it would be the right thing to do."
Christie's office has not responded to a request for comment. The polling also shows that New Jerseyans are leaning towards not passing the referendum by a 70% to 24% margin, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey. That's up from the 57% of people polled who opposed the referendum in June.
It's no secret that Atlantic City has been struggling in recent years with at least five casinos closing, costing the city millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs. The referendum received the most support among Republicans in the state with 29%, compared to 20% of Democrats and 23% of Independents.
Casino gambling has been limited to Atlantic City since gambling was first legalized in the state in 1976. In spite of the fact that the new legislation mandates that no casino in the state can be within 72 miles of Atlantic City, the referendum has seen fierce opposition from the resort city located in the state's southeast corner.
There are two primary reasons for the push back, according to PublicMind Director Krista Jenkins. The largest obstacle for passage is that 36% of New Jerseyans believe that the state already has enough casinos. The next significant reason is the belief that more casinos will end up further hurting Atlantic City.
"So you have push back from both sides," Jenkins told TheStreet in an interview. "The pro-gambling and anti-gambling sides both have their reasons for opposition. National polling also suggests that the majority of Americans think there are already too many casinos."
Whether tomorrow's anticipated defeat is the death knell for expanded gambling activity in the Garden State remains to be seen. But early indications are that New Jerseyans are not yet ready to allow gambling in Northern Jersey.