Trenton’s Bad Bet was a coalition of concerned citizens, local advocates and business leaders in the New Jersey area who were concerned the expansion of casino gambling was an empty promise of jobs and tax revenues that would seriously harm the state’s economy and social fabric.
Deep-pocketed investors in the casino industry were planning on pouring $35 million into a campaign to pass a ballot question in New Jersey that would place two new casinos in the northern part of the state.
Tasked with leading the opposition effort, we faced an uphill battle.
Proponents of the campaign were promising 40,000 jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue to rebuild Atlantic City, and the ballot language Trenton politicians approved was clearly tilted to garner a “yes” vote with numerous declarations about how the casinos would allocate funding to programs for seniors and the disabled. Finally, from a messaging perspective, we were faced with the challenge of remaining credible despite the fact that our campaign was funded by casino operators in New York and Atlantic City.
At the onset of the effort, we conducted a poll that concluded New Jersey voters harbored very negative feelings about Trenton politicians – with 81 percent indicating they believed Trenton politicians repeatedly broke their promises.
This insight drove our entire campaign and would become the central focus of our messaging architecture. Instead of running a campaign focused on the negative impacts of casino gambling on communities, we decided to run a campaign against the failures of Trenton politicians to keep their promises and how that lack of confidence was reflected in the ballot measure.
Using that message, we ran an integrated campaign until election day that combined traditional coalition and grassroots strategies with earned media, digital communications, direct mail and a $10.5 million television and radio campaign in the New York City and Philadelphia media markets.
In our advertising campaign, we partnered with a data analytics firm to target persuadable who tilted in favor of the casinos in order to ensure our campaign was operating efficiently in the expensive New York/New Jersey markets. The ads used a combination of local voices to show that Trenton politician broke promises, and the casinos would be no different.
From a grassroots perspective, we secured countless earned media hits and op-eds in favor of our position while securing endorsements from local validators – dovetailing with our paid advertising strategy and ensuring our opposition remained on their heels.
On Election Day, New Jersey voters rejected Question One by a margin of 78 percent to 22 percent, the largest defeat for a ballot question in New Jersey history.
This result is a testament to what our opponents repeatedly called a “brilliant strategy” and the precise execution of that strategy across several different communications media. In delivering such a stinging defeat to the North Jersey casinos, we have made it considerably less likely that Trenton politicians will attempt to expand gambling in New Jersey again. The voters have spoken, and their will is clear – they do not want more casinos in New Jersey.