Gov. Chris Christie predicted Thursday that voters won't allow new casinos in northern New Jersey if lawmakers don't approve a state takeover plan for Atlantic City and said he will campaign against the expansion measure unless reforms for the financially crumbling resort town are passed.
Surrounded by charts illustrating Atlantic City's perilous financial situation, Christie said a state takeover of the seaside gambling resort and a bill to allow alternative tax payments for casinos that have stalled in the Legislature are the only solutions to save it from collapse.
"Atlantic City is headed for a disaster and North Jersey gaming is headed for a defeat if we don't get our act together," the Republican said. "It's time to stop all the theater."
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He questioned who would finance an advertising campaign for November's referendum and said that voters won't vote to expand gambling in New Jersey "when the only city where gambling is allowed is ready to go down the toilet."
The takeover plan has stalled since Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he won't post a bill to allow the Christie administration to take over city government. The takeover and tax measures have already passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority.
Christie's prediction on casinos in northern New Jersey comes after rare bipartisan consensus emerged recently to expand gaming beyond Atlantic City and after the governor himself had embraced the plan.
Prieto on Thursday dismissed Christie's prediction about gaming in northern New Jersey, saying the governor can campaign as he chooses.
"It wouldn't be his first flip-flop, and he would just be risking hurting Atlantic City by denying it funding it sorely needs from North Jersey gaming to transition into a resort destination," Prieto said.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, a Republican, agreed with Christie that the ballot question to expand gambling would likely fail if the town isn't helped because casinos' financing model there hasn't worked.
"This is a good time for anyone thinking that having casinos outside Atlantic City is a good idea to take a look at the false promises casino gambling made to Atlantic City," Guardian said.
Prieto says he hasn't brought the measure up for a vote because of concerns about union bargaining rights, but Christie says he believes the real reason is political jockeying ahead of next year's gubernatorial election.
Christie says Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a Democrat and close Prieto ally, wants to hurt Senate President Steve Sweeney, who supports the measure. Sweeney and Fulop are both likely 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Christie on Wednesday called Fulop the "puppeteer" behind Prieto.
Fulop on Thursday said in a statement that there is "zero substance" to the governor's comments and they amount to a "temper tantrum." He also said Jersey City would be OK if gambling in the northern part of the state doesn't go forward.
"If the Governor wants to stop North Jersey gaming as a result of this tantrum as he threatens, that is his choice — it doesn't bother us either way. Jersey City will be just fine," Fulop said.
Municipal workers in Atlantic City voted Wednesday on a temporary plan to avoid a government shutdown next week, but the vote results were not immediately released.
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry contributed to this report.