Good News, Bad News in New Jersey

Good news and bad news from New Jersey, where the state wants to drastically overhaul horse racing.

The good news is any proposed drastic overhaul. The bad news is that at face value, it’s not all-inclusive and lacks long-term vision.

The return to a roughly June-through-Labor Day schedule at Monmouth Park is long overdue, and The Meadowlands might be better off having the flexibility to schedule harness racing at various times of the year. Another 21 days of fall racing at Monmouth with substantially lower purses must be a bone for locals.

Based on 2009 purse statistics, offering 50 days of spring/summer racing with average daily purses of $1 million at Monmouth seems a stretch. So does going from 140 days of racing a year to 70 days in the blink of an eye given the investment breeders have made in New Jersey.

Handle on Monmouth races would have to rise dramatically—that’s not happening anywhere these days, quality racing or not—to compensate for cutting live racing dates in half. Also, the $1-million carrot surely depends on this year’s casino purse subsidy, which expires at the end of 2010.

The proposal has been called an “experiment.” OK, so what’s the backup plan? Or is this a go-out-with-a-big-bang plan?

As has been the case with previous discussions, the owners of two private racetracks in the state—Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course—have not been involved. The strategically-located harness track offers about 170 days of racing a year, while the Thoroughbred track is an underutilized resource in need of improvements that could give it a substantive role in New Jersey racing.

Alas, both tracks are owned by casino companies that currently have no gaming holdings in New Jersey. That's called political death.

Any proposal should look at the big picture: Ideally, live Thoroughbred racing from April through November, with enough opportunities for New Jersey-bred horses that have helped filled races in the state for years and contribute to land preservation and agriculture.

Something along the lines of 70 days at Monmouth and 30 at Atlantic City spread out over eight months might work. On the harness side, people forget how good the racing was at Freehold years ago in the fall when The Meadowlands was closed; there’s no reason it shouldn’t be part of the equation.

Handle in New Jersey has gradually declined in recent years, but according to the latest New Jersey Racing Commission annual report, handle generated in the state in 2008 was more than $934 million (on track, OTB parlors, casino race books, and in-state advance deposit wagering). That’s a lot of money for a state with casino gambling and casinos in all of its bordering states.

So why hasn’t handle flat out tanked in New Jersey with all this competition? Why do casinos want to close their race books? Why is it so hard to come up with a workable racing calendar with four racetracks in the state?

The problem is New Jersey has a bad case of casinoitis. For years we’ve heard how Atlantic City must be protected, yet companies with properties in Atlantic City built casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania to protect their interests.

Several of Atlantic City's current legislative protectors were in office when I was a newspaper reporter in South Jersey in the late 1980s. No wonder there's never any positive change involving New Jersey and its precious casinos.

Anyone who has lived in the Mid-Atlantic region knows how close you are from point A to point B at any time, even if traffic slows you down. You have your pick of racetracks, casinos, and even limited sports betting in Delaware.

Pro-gaming or anti-gaming, does anyone honestly believe at this particular point in time that video lottery terminals at four New Jersey racetracks will make that much difference to Atlantic City’s success or failure?

Does anyone believe a patron from Pennsylvania that can visit a local racetrack slots parlor anyway is going to stop to play VLTs at Atlantic City Race Course with the Atlantic City casinos only 14 miles down the road? Isn’t Atlantic City supposed to be a “destination resort” that generates revenue from non-gaming enterprises?

New Jersey voters believed that when casino gambling there was approved by constitutional amendment in the 1970s. Racing has done plenty to screw things up since those days, but it’s not entirely to blame.

New Jersey government and governments in neighboring states had a major hand in the mess. In the 1970s and 1980s, in attempts to generate more revenue from pari-mutuel taxes, they pushed for or allowed for overlapping dates and regional conflicts that ultimately led to the closure of several tracks and a watered-down product. Now that pari-mutuel revenue can’t match the mother’s milk that is casino revenue, few seem to care about racing. Heck, get rid of it.

There is nothing historically to suggest New Jersey will get it right this time. One can only hope whatever plan is proposed, it’s for the long haul, involves all the players, and preserves an important industry in the state.

23 Comments

Leave a Comment:

WinnahPickah

Since I live near Monmouth Park, I have an interest in what goes on. It seems to me that the casinos really want control of the Account Wagering Money. It currently is controlled by the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority.

Let's Face it! The casinos can't stop the real competition in Delaware and Pennsylvania so they pick on the little fish i.e. NJ Race Tracks.

Unfortunately, the Governor is all on board with the casinos.

My biggest question is, Who will the casinos blame once the race tracks are boarded up?

01 Mar 2010 2:56 PM
Gosley

New Jersey needs to get control of AC Racetrack back from Greenwood. The annual turnout over the past few years indicates this could be a winning "boutique" meet maybe even in fall also. I like the Monmouth plan but horsemen need a second-tier track for the cheaper horses. What are they going to put up, $30,000 purses for $7,500 claimers at Monmouth?? The Meadowlands should also be a specialty turf only venue - few days here and there .

Why waste that great turf track? G.

01 Mar 2010 4:29 PM
Jennie

The new Gov. of NJ doesn't give a damn about horse racing, especially since the wiseguys from the Atlantic City casinos are lining his pockets. Check how much they donated to his election campaign. And you can forget about AyCee Racetrack ever experiencing a comeback, not as long as The Evil Empire, aka Greenwood Racing, owns it.  

01 Mar 2010 7:59 PM
Nancy

Who's kidding who. If this plan becomes a reality, racing and breeding in NJ will be dead. I have loved racing for years but what most people in the horse industry don't understand is that the majority of people just don't care about racing period. How many McMansions and empty strip malls do you think will take the place of the horse farms?    

01 Mar 2010 8:28 PM
whirlawayjoe

your comment of mon. pk. being an underutilized resource is spot on, fix the old gal up, let folks know what a great family place it is. the picnic area needs to be redone, but its a great track, i hope christie is tired of screwing the working people and lets monmouth stand.

02 Mar 2010 2:28 AM
Mrs. Chapman

Does anybody running the show have a clue? What do the people at the racetracks do? Trainers, blacksmiths, veterinarians, backstretch workers, frontside employees; where do they live off and on for eight months? How much rent revenue do the homeowners lose? Where do the horses go if the racetrack is closed?  

It is prohibitively expensive for owners to have horses in training. Vanning to another track, the huge trainer's expense from tons of clean hay and straw left behind each time the entire stable is forced to move.

Wake up. There's no chance racing can survive in New Jersey.

02 Mar 2010 8:10 AM
Nancy

I agree with Jennie, Gov. Christie doesn't care about racing and neither does Sweeney, he represents Atlantic City. I guess jobs the horse industry provides doesn't matter, along with the ripple effects on other businesses.

02 Mar 2010 9:42 AM
RGGC

I am an every weekend fan at Monmouth Racetrack and it is the best little track in the country. I know alot of the people who work there, and I live in the beautiful surrounding area that is kept that way because of the horse farms; some old and some new. If racing is allowed to die, the impact will be as bad as when Fort Monmouth closed in the same area. What else can they do to this county and it's economy, detonate the nukes at Earle navel base? (Oh right, they aren't there anymore, another lie the people of Monmouth Cty were told.) The last Governor didn't care about racing, I am afraid the new one may care even less. God help our sport.

02 Mar 2010 9:49 AM
BEEF29

Racing in New Jersey is far behind now. They may never recover. Forget slots. Slots are so watered down with PA, DE, NY and soon to be MD having them.

They need to do something else. Maybe just table games, sports betting, something else to generate income and hike the purses up.

The 2nd thing is that the State of New Jersey should be out of the racing buisness period. Sell the properties and get out. It's a major conflict of interest when the Governor doesn't want to help a State-run agency. ... This governor is full of hot air anyway and will get caught up in something during his term. He wants to take from the poor and give it to the rich (his buddies), that is his whole game plan.

As far as racing, he could care less, believe me ...

02 Mar 2010 9:59 AM
race day marc

Monmouth Park has become a DUMP. I have been going there for 35 years plus. Racing as a whole is a disaster. The racing game is OVER in America, never to rise again. I predict in the next 7 years the triple crown will be done away with. Thanks for the memories.

02 Mar 2010 10:00 AM
Bob C

Monmouth Park has become a dump? I guess that's why the folks at Breeders Cup Ltd. chose Monmouth as the host track a couple of years ago. It seems that NJ wants to protect its casino industry (?) while allowing horse racing and breeding to just slip away. Has anyone ever thought that it is entirely possible for the casinos and the racetracks to not just merely co-exist but to actually benefit each other?

02 Mar 2010 11:07 AM
Dixiebandfan

The concerns echoed in the comments are legitimate if sounding somewhat hysterical. The question, in my view, is, "What are we doing about it?" If we are dependent only on the government and the track operators to support and maintain horse racing, then we are certain to see it deteriorate to total obscurity. If we don't support the ownership of horses and promote the sport to the general community, then we will only have ourselves to blame. The Kentucky breeders are happy to sell their product to foreign entities. Perhaps they don't care if the Kentucky Derby is run in Dubai.

02 Mar 2010 11:31 AM
JerseyTom

Editor's note: I think it's pretty well-established Monmouth Park is one of the nicest and more successful tracks in the country. ... All the more reason to ensure it stays around.

02 Mar 2010 11:54 AM
Peggygee

Monmouth is beautiful, AC Racetrack was and could be beautiful again and its turf course still rivals any in the country, Meadowlands is just for pacers. Freehold holds its own.

Problem is, these state-owned tracks are losting bazillions and all on the backs of the taxpayers. They are horribly mismanaged. What's worse is the state regulates their "favored" tracks, which is another huge conflict.

NJ needs to get ALL IN or ALL OUT of track ownership. The NJSEA needs to get out of bed with the horsemen and reduce the enormous salaries and overhead. Make Monmouth an elite meet.  Make AC the lower purse turf king and offer a realistic calendar to all.

A few VLTs wouldn't be bad either, after all, the casinos have simulcasting so why the double standard?

02 Mar 2010 12:28 PM
Rich C

I am a small owner and had my first horse run in the Jersey Derby in 2007. He didn't disappoint me either, running past half the field into no pace and finishing 4th at 55-1 in front of 45,000 screaming fans. For me it was a very proud moment as Monmouth is my home track. I put my hard earned money and emotion into the game and it makes me very sad to hear that the government just doesn't care about racing in this state. Perhaps they should spend some quality time at the track in the morning watching horses train and talking to the trainers and backstretch workers. It is a way of life for these people and they give it their all 7 days a week. The setting at Monmouth is beautiful and if racing is to cease there it will just show how shallow we humans have become. Yes, it will be replaced by homes and stores if that is the case. Is that what we really need more of in New Jersey?

02 Mar 2010 12:46 PM
LK

Isn't our state animal the horse? Also I am not a huge "green" person, but it seems to me that horses and land to keep them is more "green" than condos and buildings. Monmouth Park is a wonderful place to visit and enjoy these beautiful God-created animals.

02 Mar 2010 1:19 PM
Barry

Tom,

 Nice article, I enjoyed reading it. As most people say, horse racing is fading away. Why?

I think not enough is being done to bring in the 21-50 yr. old fans.

Most people new to game don't know enough about handicapping and don't want to sit around 30 min. until the next race. There has to be something else for them to do.

The management has to come up with new ideas. If you can get the women wanting to be there, the men will follow. [Just like any bar].

Lower food and drink prices. Instant random cash vouchers each race. More Friday night racing. Try and make the track like a party place, that people will want to come to. I'm sure someone might have other good ideas.

Racing can't be all about big purses for the owners. They have to give some of that money back to the fans. Lets hope something good happens for horse racing.

02 Mar 2010 2:29 PM
JerseyTom

Interesting comment earlier about racing and casinos co-existing. ... Remember when Playboy Casino sponsored the Jersey Derby at ACRC, and Caesar's the International on the grass?

02 Mar 2010 6:36 PM
cathyd

I'm one of the endangered species.

I breed jersey-breds.

Larry, Moe and Curly could do a better job of running the sports authority. It's been down since the state got involved.

The casinos have not done what they said they said they were going to do (rebuild Atlantic City)

It's not a destination. It's a bus trip to a ghetto! Where would you rather be if your car broke down coming home, Atlantic City or 95 coming from Delaware or Philly?

I live in SJ.

For the past 2 years I have not gotten all of my breeders' awards, because there wasn't enough to pay us after they paid all the owners' bonus.

Monmouth Park is not a local track for me. It's a 3 hour ride. Garden State and Atlantic City were my local tracks.

Now I have to pay for stalls to train during the winter.

Maybe, I should grow a few houses on my farm instead of horses.

Pardon my rambling.

02 Mar 2010 8:49 PM
Don McD

New Jersey is pretty bad. New York has authorized VLTs for nearly 10 years and can't get them going yet. But I'll wager Maryland is the worst of all. Incompetent legislators, executives, and regulators have nearly destroyed racing and breeding.

02 Mar 2010 9:22 PM
UCLinden

Question: what do The Meadowlands, Freehold Raceway, Monmouth, the jersey shore & AC - ALL have in common --- they are all located on the eastern seaboard of N.J.!! What do Freehold, Monmouth , the jersey shore & AC - ALL have in common - they are all competing against one another during the DAY!!

Look at how many families go to the N.J.beach in the summer (including those families from out of state). During the evening, you'll find them walking the boardwalk.The question now is, why at night? Answer, what other course of family entertainment is there at night in N.J. besides the boardwalk. NONE !!!

You CANNOT have various recreation entities competing against one another all at the same time and all within the same area ... someone has to reap the benefits while another does not.

Another situation that works against Monmouth is for the most part, most N.J. families work during the day. How can you have a racing program during the day , hoping for patrons & revenue, when people are at work???

Something has to bend and in this case it has to be Monmouth in order to survive. The racing time HAS to be changed in order to accommodate the RACING fan in New Jersey (that is your revenue, the FAN). Yes, there are racing fans in New Jersey, just look at the attendance on Haskell Day!!!

03 Mar 2010 4:19 AM
Thor

The boutique meet would put most of the NJ Horsepeople out of business. What would the bottom level of competition be? What about J-Bred allowance or even maiden claiming. I echo Tom's point from an earlier post. We have to pay for stalls in the winter, ship to run and now pray that our horses do not have any injuries or sickness during the Monmouth meet. The days of the Hard knocking nickel J-breds such as Sparky Rullah seem to be finished.

03 Mar 2010 2:53 PM
PW Herman

Today the NJTHA will vote YES to running a shortened schedule of 71 days. The first 50 days at a $1,000,000 a day purse structure.

The Monmouth Park racing community then will be dependent on the VP of Racing, "Burnt Out" Bob Kulina, to market this meet so it does not become a complete financial disaster. Bob- please retire.

We need someone who has fresh ideas to run Monmouth Park.

Take your state-funded pension and leave...hopefully soon.

08 Mar 2010 7:59 AM

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