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Jersey City mayor, in A.C.: I may have to rethink North Jersey casinos

ATLANTIC CITY - Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who has been encouraging the expansion of casino gaming into his North Jersey city, on Wednesday took a long look at Atlantic City and said he might have to reconsider. "This has been really helpful," Fulop said, after a meeting with councilmen and community leaders at Kelsey's, the Pacific Avenue landmark restaurant and jazz club, before a personal jitney tour with City Council President Marty Small as his host. "This has been eye opening."

ATLANTIC CITY -  Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who has been encouraging the expansion of casino gaming into his North Jersey city, on Wednesday took a long look at Atlantic City and said he might have to reconsider.

"This has been really helpful," Fulop said, after a meeting with councilmen and community leaders at Kelsey's, the Pacific Avenue landmark restaurant and jazz club, before a personal jitney tour with City Council President Marty Small as his host. "This has been eye opening."

He heard about broken promises from residents, and saw two of four closed casinos up close. "Welcome to - Closed," read the sign outside Showboat. He marveled again and again at the vast stretches of vacant beachfront property and said he now better understood all the interest in Atlantic City from Trenton.

But Fulop said if he decides casino gaming isn't in Jersey City's best interest, "we're gonna kill it and kill it aggressively."

The Atlantic City visit by Fulop, considered a rival to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to succeed Gov. Christie, was the latest maneuver in a shifting political landscape over how to rescue Atlantic City and whether to expand gaming to North Jersey.

Sweeney has been pushing a state takeover of Atlantic City, which has been opposed by city officials, who have found an ally in another North Jersey politician, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Christie has accused Fulop of being behind Prieto's opposition to the state takeover bill that Christie supports.

Sweeney, who is from Gloucester County, would typically be relying on staunch Democratic support from the Southern part of the state. But Sweeney's support of a state takeover has cost him.

Instead, it was Fulop, all the way from Hudson County, who was the guest of Small, who arranged the meeting  at Kelsey's, followed by a tour of the best and worst of the post-casino Atlantic City via jitney, with noted "Jitney Guy" Frank Becktel at the wheel.

It was during the Kelsey's meeting that Sweeney, from Trenton, sent out word of an alternative to the Atlantic City takeover bill, which Fulop expressed reservations about but has not taken a direct position on.

During the tour, which featured long looks at vast tracts of empty ocean front property, and two of the city's four empty casinos, Revel and Showboat, Fulop said  "you start to get a better understanding of potential motives"

"Land, land, land!" he said at another point, remarking over all the waterfront property vacant and available. His police driver would later start pulling up real estate sites to look at the prices. (Low).

"It has a lot of really good bone structure and assets," he said of the iconic, but near-broke, seaside resort. "You have to believe comeback is not only possible, but probable."

At one stop, on an intersection of closed Revel and closed Showboat, Fulop just shook his head. "And that's just empty?" he said.

Except for owner Glenn Straub, who sometimes stays in Revel, when he's not on his yacht, the answer was yes.

Prior to the visit, Fulop tweeted: "need to better understand casino culture and pros/cons for residents directly. Maybe I need to rethink my position."

He said the purpose of his visit was to learn more about the impact of casinos for residents. After his meeting, he said that the concerns from residents about "failed promises" and the culture of the casino economy, where 18-year-olds aspire to work as cocktail waitresses and dealers instead of going to college, only built on concerns he'd been hearing from Jersey City residents.

He said perhaps he'd been too quick to embrace the notion of casino development for Jersey City, which has seen hundreds of millions of other new development in recent years.

Fulop, whose town has been a key player in the North Jersey casino debate, with investor Paul Fireman proposing a billion-dollar casino near Liberty State Park, said last week that he was not wedded to the idea of a casino for his city. That statement followed Christie's statement that if he did not get a full takeover of Atlantic City, he would campaign against expanding casino gaming outside the seaside resort.

Fulop has also said that if his residents vote against the referendum, that he will not support casinos in Jersey City even if it passes statewide.

His rival, Sweeney, has also supported expanding casino gaming, but wants a portion of revenue to go back to Atlantic City in some fashion.

But the drama over Atlantic City has led to strange alliance, with Mayor Don Guardian finding a friend in Hudson County Democrat Vincent Prieto, the Assembly Speaker.

Fulop said he had spoken with Guardian on Tuesday, and planned to meet with the mayor at a future date. For his part, Small did not deny that he is interested in challenging Guardian in 2017 for Mayor.

Fulop noted that with all the talk about collective bargaining rights, and takeovers, the casinos themselves and their culpability in the economic melt down of Atlantic City was perhaps overlooked.

He said he'd been lobbied by numerous casinos in Atlantic City, their parent companies and other casino companies for a piece of any Jersey City action, even as the Atlantic City casinos are lobbying against passage of the referendum that would allow casinos outside Atlantic City at all.

"They haven't cared for the community in the same way the community has given them protection," Fulop said.

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