Officials: AC Wants Larger Role in New Jersey

Atlantic City Race Course is again making a pitch to expand its racing days but says it needs several million dollars a year in additional purse money.

ACRC in April held a six-day all-turf meet at which attendance and handle were up 35.6% and 24%, respectively, from its 2009 meet. Officials at the southern New Jersey track are interested in expanding the season—even as early as this year—if funding becomes available.

ACRC president Maureen Gallagher Bugdon and Joe Wilson, chief operating officer at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, which owns Atlantic City, said in a May letter to supporters the track is interested in offering eight to 10 days of racing in the spring and a similar number in the fall, before and after the Monmouth Park meet.

ACRC officials said $1.5 million to $2 million in purse funds would be necessary to accommodate up to 20 race days. Sympathetic lawmakers are eyeing a change in law that would shift some revenue from casino race book simulcasts to ACRC.

Gallagher Bugdon used the Monmouth meet that begins May 22 as an example. Monmouth this year will hold a 50-day meet with an average of $1 million a day in purses under an experiment designed to bolster New Jersey racing. She said taking $30,000 a day and giving to ACRC would allow the track to more than triple its racing days and wouldn’t impact the Monmouth program.

Monmouth is in the last year of a three-year, $90-million purse supplement from the Atlantic City casino industry. ACRC doesn’t share in that money.

A state commission is making recommendations on the future of horse racing and whether it will receive financial assistance. With Thoroughbred racing having been eliminated at Meadowlands for at least this year, ACRC is gaining some traction as an alternative.

“At a time when New Jersey horsemen are losing about 70 days of racing, ACRC could pick up the slack and race approximately 1,000 more horses for very little money, making this a great return on investment,” Gallagher Bugdon and Wilson said in the letter. “This should be a logical part of any ‘experiment’ and a way to take advantage of ACRC’s popularity and success.

“The purse money could, of course, be put together in any number of ways. The key, though, is that ACRC needs purse money in order to do this, just like the other New Jersey tracks.”

Greenwood Racing, which owns ACRC and Philly Park, has been regularly criticized for not adding days and not making capital improvements at Atlantic City, which is open year-round for full-card simulcasts and operates an off-track betting parlor in nearby Vineland. Philly Park is home to the most successful casino in Pennsylvania.

“We want to be a racetrack, not an (OTB), but for those who may believe we should just transfer purse money from Philadelphia Park to ACRC, it should be noted that this is prohibited by Pennsylvania law and we are not able to do that,” the letter states.

ACRC this season offered 37 races with average daily purses of $125,000 but had no problem filling fields despite a ship-in-only policy; average field size was more than 10 horses per race.

Monmouth, operated by New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, reportedly has been inundated with requests for stalls given the record purse structure. There are no full-scale training centers in New Jersey though Atlantic City has been named as a potential candidate should the necessary improvements be made.

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