The fracture between North and South Jersey lawmakers over the future of gambling deepened a bit more Tuesday with a letter sent to Donald J. Trump.
The letter was written by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, the Union County Democrat leading the charge to overturn the federal ban on sports betting in all but four states and pushing for Internet gambling in Atlantic City.
"Dear Mr. Trump," Lesniak wrote. "We need a casino owner with vision and gravitas to propose a casino in the Meadowlands with a commitment to invest a percentage of the profits in Atlantic City to transform it into a tourist and entertainment destination.
"The Atlantic City casinos oppose this plan because it would take away business at their New York and Pennsylvania locations," the letter says. "Enclosed is the Lesniak Plan and a business model for Project Meadowlands. Go for it!"
Lesniak's exhortation is in direct opposition to a key piece of Gov. Christie's plan to overhaul Atlantic City: keeping gaming exclusively at the Shore.
Trump, who owns three casinos in Atlantic City, had not yet received the letter, mailed Tuesday, but he was adamant about not allowing new competition at the Meadowlands.
"If gambling doesn't stay in Atlantic City, it won't really have much of a chance," Trump said in a phone interview from his New York office. "If they put something in the Meadowlands, it would really have a huge impact on Atlantic City.
"There has been such a huge investment from Wall Street and international investors that if you took the focus off Atlantic City, there will be no more investment in Atlantic City," he said.
When asked about the possibility of a Trump casino at the Meadowlands, the real estate mogul didn't flinch.
"I wouldn't say that something like that would not be successful, but it will be the end of Atlantic City," Trump said. "New Jersey has to focus on Atlantic City. Maybe someday down the road and the economy starts roaring back again, maybe. But certainly not now."
In a speech at Boardwalk Hall on July 21, Christie made it clear where he stood: He unveiled the recommendations of a seven-member panel that call for no slot machines at the Meadowlands and ending a $30 million annual subsidy to the state's horse-racing industry.
"This is not the appropriate time to introduce gaming in any other part of the state," the governor said. "We have to make a commitment to repair what's broken here in Atlantic City."
Under Christie's plan, a state entity would take over Atlantic City's tourism and casino district; all gambling revenue collected by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, some of which had been going for statewide projects, would stay in Atlantic City; and casino regulations would be streamlined, resulting in cost savings funneled toward marketing and boosting convention business by at least 30 percent a year over the next five years.
On Friday, at a legislative gaming summit at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the North/South divide was palpable. South Jersey lawmakers and casino operators pushed for gambling exclusivity to remain intact, while North Jersey lawmakers urged just the opposite.
Lesniak said something stronger and bolder was needed to reverse Atlantic City's fading fortunes. His plan calls for investing upwards of $1 billion into Atlantic City from the proceeds from slot machines that would be installed at the Meadowlands.
The East Rutherford sports complex, home to New Meadowlands Stadium, where the New York Giants and Jets will play, has some issues of its own. The state is considering shutting down or selling the horse-racing track there, which Saturday hosted the prestigious Hambletonian stakes race for trotters.
"I believe thinking can evolve on it, and if [the governor] really looked at what's best for New Jersey and Atlantic City, and not what's best for the casinos' interests outside of New Jersey, he'd support my proposal," Lesniak said Tuesday.
The 1976 New Jersey Casino Control Act bars gambling in any other part of the state. Changing the law to allow casinos outside Atlantic City would require a constitutional amendment.
This summer has been anything but good to Atlantic City. Figures released Tuesday by the Casino Control Commission confirmed the obvious: that table games in Pennsylvania would prove to be another direct hit to the Shore's weakening revenues.
The 11 gambling halls reported $363.9 million in revenue in July, down 5 percent from a year ago. In what is typically one of the more profitable months, all but two casinos, Atlantic City Hilton and Trump Taj Mahal, reported revenue declines.
A lot of Atlantic City's woes have been attributed to the casinos across the state line, which added table games in July.
Last week's figures from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board showed gross slots revenues for July were $211.1 million, a record 17.8 percent increase over a year ago. Revenues from table games won't be available until after Aug. 20.
On Monday, the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee held a hearing on how table games were going.
"So far, table games have been very good for Pennsylvania," said chairman Rep. Dante Santoni (D., Berks). "They have put more than 4,000 people to work."
By comparison, 8,800 casino jobs have been pared in Atlantic City since 2007 because of declining revenues.