Newmark Grubb Knight Frank chairman, Jeff Gural is nearly a year removed from the official unveiling of his plans to develop a Hard Rock Casino next to his Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford New Jersey.
Before construction can begin, Gural must first receive the green light from the state which thus far has not allowed casinos outside of the now floundering Atlantic City’s limits. After the matter failed to be added to a ballot last fall, it was guaranteed a spot on this coming November’s ballot.
“This is the only hope Atlantic City has,” said Gural who referenced how his proposal for gaming in northern New Jersey includes plans to send funds to the cash-strapped resort town. Gural has volunteered to pay a 55 percent tax on casino revenues as compared to Atlantic City’s 8 percent so that more money could be donated to the latter.
“The reality is, anyone who has visited Atlantic City will tell you that the city needs to be rebuilt.”
Gural said that the once gambling mecca no longer draws the crowds that it used to and if Atlantic City were to resurge, it would need to focus on other methods of entertainment, such as dining.
“We’re basically going to give them a significant amount of money over the next fifteen years and they can then use that to rebuild the town,” Gural told Real Estate Weekly.
“You have to have a viable town, not ask people to drive through a slum to get to the boardwalk. There is no source of revenue to rebuild that town. They don’t even have money to pay their bills as is.”
Last summer, Gural and other proponents of bringing casino gambling to the northern end of the state also had said that those who were currently out of work due to the collapse of the south jersey gaming industry would receive preferred consideration for jobs at the Meadowlands Hard Rock.
Atlantic City’s financial woes are not the only tie that the resort town has to a potential gambling mecca in the swamps of the Meadowlands. Gural will need to align himself with a development partner that has already invested in Atlantic City in order to get the approval of the state when it comes time to vote.
Gural said that there is a small group of candidates for him to team with, though not all are interested in coming aboard.
“There are six potential partners. Some of them have come out opposing the legislation but I think it’s clear that there are one or two that are preferable to the others”
Ultimately, the construction of a casino may save more than just the floundering shore point. Gural said that his racing interests at Meadowlands Racetrack are being hampered by similar venues in surrounding states.
“The track is doing OK,” Gural said. “The biggest problem we have-and nobody talks about this-is all of these surrounding states subsidize horse racing with casinos.” He continued, saying that the prize money and amount of horses per race were both starting to drop. “The horse racing industry is counting on this,” said Gural. “If we don’t get a casino at the Meadowlands in the next year or two there will be no horse racing.”
Gural plans to decide on his partner soon, as the pair will need to campaign for a yes vote when the push for gambling licenses in northern Jersey finally is up for a vote in November.
“The referendum will definitely be on the ballot, that’s a given,” Gural said. “What hasn’t been passed is the companion legislation who says what the tax rate is, where that money goes and how the money is used.”
I don’t think people are anxious to send money to Atlantic City unless they know exactly where that money is going to go,” said Gural who suggested that subsidized airfare might not be a bad way to draw more visitors to the shore point.
While the referendum may be passed before the holiday season, the timetable on the companion legislature has a much murkier timeline.
Ultimately, the goal is to produce two gambling licenses in the northern section of Jersey, which Gural and his contemporaries believe will help the state as a whole, while also funneling revenues down to what was once a strong gaming destination in Atlantic City.