ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Momentum to shift some gambling away from Atlantic City increased Tuesday as a state senator introduced plans for a constitutional amendment that would put slot machines at New Jersey's four horse racing tracks, a business group increased its planning for an anticipated full-blown casino at the Meadowlands sports complex and the state gave final approval for the Showboat to shut down.
Even before Atlantic City's casino revenues started declining in 2007 due to increased competition and the nationwide economic slowdown, the horse racing industry and its political allies in northern New Jersey pushed hard for the right to offer casino gambling at the state's racetracks. They cited successful so-called "racinos" in Pennsylvania and other states and complained they were being left behind, despite $30 million a year in subsidies from Atlantic City casinos in return for keeping slots out of the tracks.
But with Atlantic City's gambling market crumbling — four of its 12 casinos will have closed before the end of summer — political leaders have ratcheted up pressure to expand gambling to other parts of the state. Polls have shown voters would likely approve a casino in the Meadowlands, which analysts predict could be among the most successful in the world — at least for a while.
New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement issued its final closing order for the Showboat on Monday night; the casino will shut down at 4 p.m. on Aug. 31. The order granted a shutdown petition the Showboat filed on Aug. 1 and seemed to indicate its owner, Caesars Entertainment, has little intention of considering selling it, despite public statements to the contrary.
"We're still reviewing expressions of interest from various entities but have nothing more to report at this time," company spokesman Gary Thompson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
It's one of three Atlantic City casinos closing in the next few weeks. Revel will close its hotel Sept. 1 and its casino Sept. 2, and Trump Plaza is closing Sept. 16.
The Showboat shutdown order came on the same day as Sen. Joe Pennacchio's proposal to let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to put slots, run by a group of Atlantic City casinos, at the tracks.
The state's 50 percent take of tax revenue would go toward state employee pensions. Forty percent would go to the casinos, and 10 percent to a fund for infrastructure and entertainment improvements in Atlantic City.
"There is an inevitability to racetrack racinos in New Jersey," Pennacchio said. "Why not use the moment to strengthen and encourage Atlantic City and its casinos as well as increasing the solvency of our public workers' pensions?"
It remains to be seen whether the state legislature will advance the proposal. Senate president Steve Sweeney has shown new willingness to consider casinos elsewhere in the state after years of staunchly opposing them. Gov. Chris Christie plans a forum on Atlantic City's future with local and state officials and workers next month
Tuesday morning, business leaders in the Meadowlands region updated their plans for the day they expect New Jersey to approve a casino at the sports complex outside New York City. They envision two hotels, a convention center and a monorail to shuttle people among attractions in the area, including the American Dream shopping and entertainment complex, formerly known as Xanadu.
The group estimated the price tag for everything at about $1.2 billion, and said it would likely be paid via private investment combined with tax incentives.
"We have the potential to build the best casino in the world because we have the infrastructure to accommodate thousands of visitors at a time, and the space to entertain a diverse audience with a multitude of entertainment needs within the sports and entertainment complex," said Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber.
The complex is also home to MetLife Stadium, where the NFL's Jets and Giants play their home games, and a newly renovated Meadowlands horse racing track.
Associated Press writer David Porter in Carlstadt contributed to this report.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC