A "master participation agreement" between the three entities that operate racetracks in New Jersey as to how they intend to divide the 15 potential off-track wagering sites in the state will be considered at the Feb. 18 meeting of the New Jersey Racing Commission. Approval of the deal is seen as the first step toward jump-starting the process of getting OTB parlors operational, perhaps by the end of the year."There's a very real possibility for the first OTBs to open in 2004," said Mike Vukevich, deputy director of the racing commission. "It appears that off-track wagering is on the fast track."Since enabling legislation was signed into law in 2001, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, owner of Monmouth Park and Meadowlands, has been negotiating with Pennwood Racing, owner of Freehold Raceway, and Greenwood Racing, owner of Atlantic City Race Course, over how many OTBs each company would operate, where those sites would be located, and how revenues and expenses would be handled.Under the agreement, the NJSEA would operate nine facilities in the northern portion of New Jersey, Pennwood four in central New Jersey, and Greenwood two in the southern counties of the state. Greenwood is expected to be the first company to get its sites built and operational, and Vineland is expected to be its first choice. Cherry Hill and Mays Landing are also under consideration."Absolutely Vineland would be our first or second choice," said Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Greenwood, which owns six Turf Clubs, or OTB parlors, in Pennsylvania. "Once the commission approves the participation agreement, we'll be getting to work in earnest on securing sites and submitting architectural drawings to the municipalities."NJSEA counsel Art Winkler said the authority is the only entity allowed to apply for a license for off-track bettting, and would do so on behalf of Pennwood and Greenwood once the commission and state attorney general approve the participation agreement."I would expect to see some substantial progress in getting OTBs open in New Jersey before the end of the year," Winkler said.