In New Jersey, It Has Only Just Begun

The Report of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment dropped like a thud in the middle of a lovely vacation in Sandbridge Beach, Va.

It didn’t spoil the retreat, but reading the document did keep me out of the pool for a little while. After re-reading it later—again and again in search of things of substance—some observations came to mind:

Politics, politics, and more politics;

Atlantic City’s casino industry, sort of the state's shadow government, has way too much influence in New Jersey;

Reports written by advisers with their own agendas are questionable at best;

New Jersey’s horse racing industry and related economic impact are too valuable to be dismissed in a 29-page report, parts of which aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed;

Any government official that wouldn’t at least consider a casino in the largest concentration of humanity in the United States—and a casino with its own Turnpike exit to boot—is a fool. But we know at least one of those officials—a governor that has gone so far as to take on the powerful state teachers' union and seems committed to reform—ain't no fool;

The “offtrack betting without live racing” model recommended in the report is widely viewed as a major contributor to racing’s problems, and some in the industry are working to reverse that model;

Meadowlands is the most recognized brand in harness racing in North America, certainly worth more than a brush off or closure, and the apple of the eye of many North Jersey legislators that will have a say in enacting any recommendations in the report;

Whether or not it loses a few million dollars, this year’s Monmouth Park meet has set very positive tone for horse racing and represents a major change in thinking that shouldn’t be dismissed in a couple of sentences;

New Jersey should be proud to have a racetrack at which total handle is up 115%, something absolutely unheard of at a time of steady declines in pari-mutuel handle elsewhere;

Privately owned Atlantic City Race Course and Freehold Raceway need a lot of work (ACRC about 30 times that of Freehold) but must be in the mix of any reasonable, comprehensive plan for racing and gaming. The report—at times antagonistic toward the private owners—downplays the tracks’ value, which is a joke;

The casino industry may need assistance, but the report makes no mention of the hundreds of millions of dollars casino companies have sucked out of Atlantic City rather than reinvesting the money in the city;

Horse racing is to blame for many of its problems, and the casino industry is as much to blame for many of its problems. You'd think they would get along in this process;

"What's puzzling is the fact that nowhere in the (report) is the value of the horse industry to the state's agricultural business mentioned," Dr. Karyn Malnowski, director of the Rutgers Equine Science Center, said in her response to the report. It's actually beyond puzzling. It's downright laughable for a state with oh so much to lose should it all go away;

The often-criticized New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has proven to be one of the top racetrack operators in the country since Meadowlands opened in the mid-1970s, so much so that racing alone produced hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that was siphoned off and used for other programs;

Horse racing has legislative friends in high places;

New Jersey is broke and needs money.

Put all that stuff together and what you have is a report that needs to be completely reworked. And that may very well occur.

The sun isn’t setting on New Jersey racing, but it is rising on a process that, best guess, will take years and years to get through.

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