Three New Jersey lawmakers are proposing a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling outside of Atlantic City.

The legislation introduced on June 1 by Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo of Belleville, Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Englewood and Raj Mukherji of Jersey City would ask for voter approval to give the legislature the ability to establish three North Jersey casinos in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. Under the proposed amendment, New Jersey's share of revenues from the new casinos would be used for programs that assist senior citizens and residents with disabilities, as is now done in Atlantic City.

"We are losing many North Jersey customers to newly-opened casinos in Pennsylvania and New York," said Caputo in a statement. "We can continue to ignore that fact at own peril, or we can move forward with a sensible statewide gaming plan that creates permanent jobs and booming economic development."

Caputo, Mukherji and Huttle emphasized that their proposal is not about taking away more gambling business from Atlantic City, but is aimed at helping the entire state with North Jersey casino options. Atlantic City is facing a $101 million gap and has been under the control of emergency manager Kevin Lavin since late January. The city's gambling industry is struggling with four of its 12 casinos closing last year.

"There is no reason why we can't come up with a statewide gaming plan that brings jobs and economic growth to Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties while also supporting Atlantic City's recovery and revitalization efforts," Huttle said. "We have to start competing or we will continue to fall behind in our region and in the country."

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Northfield, whose district covers Atlantic City, criticized the casino expansion proposal because of it could hurt South Jersey's economy.

"It's disruptive to talk about casinos in North Jersey while South Jersey families are still reeling from having their jobs, health care and stability taken away, and while Atlantic County, Atlantic City and our schools are still feeling the hit," said Mazzeo. "I will not support any attempt to amend our constitution to open casinos in the Meadowlands or Jersey City or anywhere outside Atlantic City, and I will definitely work against having such a question rushed through rushed through to beat a ballot deadline."

Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, said in a statement that he is in favor of expanding casino gaming in North Jersey, but believes it should be limited to just two casinos that are at least 100 miles from Atlantic City to avoid oversaturating the market.

Caputo, Mukherji and Huttle estimate that three new casinos in North Jersey would create 20,000 jobs.

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