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Shift of gambling from Atlantic City gains momentum

N.J. weighs slots at tracks, casino at Meadowlands

ATLANTIC CITY — 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 complex, and the state gave final approval for the Showboat to close.

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.

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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 said 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 Senator 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.

Atlantic City forum

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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. Governor 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 probably be paid via private investment combined with tax incentives.

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