06/03/2015 8:39PM

Meadowlands: Plans revealed for Hard Rock Casino

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The Hard Rock Casino would feature 5,000 slot machines and 200 table games.

The plans for Hard Rock International to bring a casino to the Meadowlands Racetrack were unveiled at a well-attended media event on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 in the Victory Sports Bar at the Meadowlands. 

Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, and Jeff Gural, chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, were joined by state legislators, chamber of commerce leaders and union leaders, all speaking on behalf of the plan, which calls for 5,000 slot machines and 200 gaming tables which could yield more than $400 million in new tax revenues annually for the State of New Jersey.

“This was a positive step in the right direction,” said Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, who was among the SBOANJ contingent attending the event.  “I see the action stirred up with a better than 50-50 chance to get this on the ballot this year.  We have enough legislators to move it forward if Senate President Steve Sweeney will post the bill.

“We understand Senator Sweeney’s concerns about presenting a ballot question in an off-year election year [2015], but we’d get swallowed up in a Presidential election year [2016],” Luchento added.  “And this is not only about bigger purses.  This is funding for seniors, students, the Atlantic City casinos, farmers, inner city parks.  So there is a lot to explain to people.”

“This is not a fight between North and South Jersey,” Gural told journalists and other guests at the media event.  “The reality is that the competition is already there [for Atlantic City] from New York and Pennsylvania.  We’re 15 minutes – when it isn’t rush hour -- from Times Square.  I’m even more optimistic.  I think we can generate $500 million a year for the state.”

Gural proposes to give the state 55 percent of revenues, the same arrangement as Pennsylvania and its casinos. 

“We’re the No. 1 harness track in the world, but we have a real struggle to get people to race here,” Gural noted.  “We need to help the purses here and at Monmouth Park.  We run a very clean operation.  The people running horses here are the cream of the crop.

“Saving the horse racing industry is just as important as saving Atlantic City,” he added.

Among the legislators attending were State Senators Raymond J. Lesniak, Paul A. Sarlo, Robert Gordon and Loretta Weinberg as well as Assembly Members Ralph R. Caputo, Marlene Caride, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Vincent Prieto. 

“We have a lot to do with my colleagues,” Sarlo said.  “We’ll get there as a group.  We’ll get to what we need to do to get this built.  We can’t wait two years.  I’d like to get it up in six weeks if it was possible.  But we’ll work together.  I promise to work with my colleagues to get this done.”

Two of the various issues are whether the referendum question for expanding casino wagering outside Atlantic City – public support is needed for a constitutional amendment – should be on this November’s ballot or addressed in next year’s; and whether there should be two or three licenses available in Bergen, Hudson and Essex Counties. 

As Hard Rock’s Allen said, “This project [at the Meadowlands] has the ability to move ahead immediately.  There are no financial contingencies.”

Hard Rock proposes a Phase 1 renovation, using areas of the existing Meadowlands grandstand, which opened two years ago.  Phase 2 would entail additional casino construction.

-Carol Hodes for the SBOANJ