A new group has started fighting the movement to legalize casino gambling in North Jersey, but this one is different from most opponents who have stepped up so far.
That’s because Trenton’s Bad Bet, which went public Friday, is based in North Jersey.
The group lists its home as Newark, and identified itself in a news release as a “diverse collection of concerned New Jersey community leaders, unions, businesses and residents that will work to oppose the ... referendum that seeks to expand gaming into North Jersey.”
And although the release came from Newark, the organization claimed support around the state.
“Members of Trenton’s Bad Bet represent North Jersey, where the casino expansion is being broadly proposed, as well as Central and South Jersey, where gaming expansion could impact both quality of life and the local economy,” the release said.
But aside from that, Trenton’s Bad Bet didn’t give many details about who’s involved or why they’re against allowing casinos to open inside New Jersey but outside Atlantic City. The state has scheduled a referendum on that question in November.
“Right now we are focused on generating awareness with voters so they understand what a bad deal this is for taxpayers,” Bill Cortese, the group’s executive director, said in the statement. “We also want to make sure residents have a voice in this process. So far very little information has been shared — a typical play by Trenton politicians when they want to move something through the back door.”
Cortese wasn’t immediately available Friday to answer questions about the group by phone or email. But a resume on LinkedIn said he’s director of communications and public affairs at Sharp Decisions, a firm in the “Greater New York City area.” The resume also lists him as a regional political director for Gov. Chris Chrstie during Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign.
To emphasize the new group’s support outside North Jersey, the Trenton’s Bad Bet release included quotes from Bob McDevitt, the president of casino-workers union Local 54, and Debra DiLorenzo, the chairwoman of the No North Jersey Casinos coalition.
DiLorenzo is also president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, based in Voorhees.
In an interview Friday, McDevitt said the new anti-casino group approached No North Jersey Casinos, which officially formed around South Jersey in April. That coalition claims as members more than 300 companies, business groups, government officials and private citizens.
“They came to our organization,” McDevitt said, “and we have the same goal in mind — to keep gambling in Atlantic City only. So it was a pretty easy alliance.”
McDevitt also doesn’t have lots of details on Trenton’s Bad Bet, but he said he doesn’t need them.
“What’s that saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend?’” the Local 54 president said. “Anybody who’s against North Jersey gaming is my ally, and I don’t really concern myself with what their motives are.”
Because North Jersey has so many more people than South Jersey, many observers have assumed that a referendum would pass and allow two casinos to open 75 miles north of Atlantic City. But a series of Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind polls have reported instead that most voters around the state oppose expanding gambling to North Jersey.
In the latest survey, released earlier this month, just 35 percent of registered voters were in favor of allowing casinos in two northern counties. Fifty-seven percent said they oppose the move.
But voters around the state will likely hear a lot of people trying to change their minds before they step into the voting booth in November. A state election official has estimated that supporters and opponents may spend as much as $40 million on the North Jersey casino campaign.