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GRAPEVINE: Gambling in Bergen County

Another look at casinos in Bergen County, another case of territorialism.

A bill that would form a 13-member commission to explore the possibility of bringing casinos to Bergen County made a little headway in the Statehouse last week, but don't count on it going anywhere anytime soon.

Brought up before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee last Thursday, the bill is expected to gain little traction, if any, at the next level as it most likely will get lost somewhere along the divide between legislators from North Jersey and South Jersey.

“It's like the Hatfields and McCoys,” says one insider.

For South Jersey lawmakers, it's a non-starter as it takes gamblers away from Atlantic City. For North Jersey folks, it's seen as the only way to really compete against casino expansion in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and now New York.

“That's unfortunate,” the insider said of the regional divide between lawmakers.

Under the bill, the established committee would feature members selected by Senate president Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Senate minority leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield), Assembly speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), Assembly minority leader Jon Bramnick (D-Westfield) and Gov. Christie.

But while everyone on that list other than Sweeney is from North Jersey, Christie has repeatedly shown little interest in anything other than a full commitment to Atlantic City.

At least former Gov. and state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Livingston) hasn't been shy about his vision for the state's next gaming center: the Meadowlands.

Cushman & Wakefield sale 

The buzz about a possible sale of Cushman & Wakefield continued last week, when throngs of real estate professionals descended on a top industry gathering in New York.

One source said the rumors were circulating at the International Council of Shopping Centers New York National Conference, one of the group's top annual deal-making events, held on Dec. 9 and 10. Two of the names mentioned as potential suitors for the privately owned brokerage firm were BGC Partners, the quickly growing parent company of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, and Washington D.C.-based Cassidy Turley.

“I keep hearing those two groups are circling,” one source said.

Cassidy Turley, a three-year-old brokerage born when several real estate firms merged, has been floated in speculation after hiring JP Morgan to advise it on a recapitalization, merger or sale. Published reports this month said it was weighing its options and has looked to firms such as Newmark and Blackstone as potential partners.

Animal health reshuffling

The latest speculation centers on Novartis, which has opened its books to rivals regarding a possible sale of its animal health unit and is also considering trading that division as part of an asset swap with Merck & Co., according to reports.

Pharmaceutical industry watchers widely regard animal health as a favorable market, given growing global demand for livestock and pets. But the segment doesn't generate the returns of blockbuster drugs, making it attractive for certain companies to devote more resources to specialty areas that post bigger margins, sources say.

Swiss company Novartis, with large operations in New Jersey and an animal health division in North Carolina, isn't talking. But an academic source who studies the industry said it makes sense for Novartis to focus more on its core pharmaceutical business that includes a solid portfolio of cancer drugs. Animal health is part of the Novartis' consumer health group, which generates under $1 billion.

“It's a tiny business,” the source said. “It brings almost nothing to their bottom line. They can invest that in pharmaceutical drugs.”

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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