03/15/2016 10:11AM

New Jersey referendum could pave way for casino at Meadowlands


New Jersey voters will be asked in a referendum this November to decide whether the state should allow two new casinos to open outside of Atlantic City, opening up the possibility that the Meadowlands harness track will get a long-sought casino license.

The state’s legislature passed a bill on Monday putting the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot, and Gov. Chris Christie has said that he will sign the legislation. The amendment would allow for two casinos in the northern part of New Jersey, where they would draw from the vast New York City metropolitan area.

The Meadowlands harness track is owned by New York real estate developer Jeff Gural, and it has long been talked about as a potential casino site. Gural, who bought the track in 2011 from the state, operates casinos at two New York harness tracks, and he has lobbied aggressively for a casino license in New Jersey over the past five years.

Gural has pledged to pay a 55 percent tax on casino revenues to the state if his track is awarded a casino license. Atlantic City’s casinos, which have lost their competitive edge in the last decade by the legalization of casinos in neighboring states, pay an 8 percent tax to the state.

In 2013, Gural sold an undisclosed stake in the Meadowlands to Hard Rock International, a restaurant and casino operator. Gural’s agreement to buy the Meadowlands included a provision that allows him to sell the track back to the state for $100 million if a casino is approved for the Meadowlands sports complex and he is not granted the casino license.