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NJ Legislation Would Permit Mini OTB Parlors

Up to 60 bars and restaurants could host offtrack betting under the bill.

Legislation expanding offtrack betting to a limited number of bars and restaurants will be discussed by New Jersey legislative committees Jan. 5.

The measure was introduced Nov. 21 by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo of northern New Jersey as a supplement to existing law governing offtrack wagering and advance deposit wagering in the state. Sarlo is a regular sponsor of racing-related legislation.

A companion bill has been introduced in the Assembly by Democrat John Burzichelli, another frequent sponsor of racing legislation.

The measure calls for the New Jersey Racing Commission to establish a “pilot program” in 12 counties in the northern and central parts of the state. The bill states that “not more than 60 licenses” can be awarded at the racing commission’s discretion.

The NJRC would be charged with ensuring the mini OTBs don’t compete with existing racetracks or offtrack betting facilities already operating in the state. The lack of the latter, however, is a major impetus for the bill.

The 10-year law authorizing offtrack wagering allows for 15 parlors, but only three have been built. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority operates the OTB parlor in Woodbridge Township; Pennwood Racing, which operates Freehold Raceway, has a facility in Toms River; and Greenwood Racing, which owns Atlantic City Race Course, has one in Vineland.

New Jersey also allows for race books at Atlantic City casinos. The mini OTBs wouldn't be permitted in southern New Jersey, where ACRC is the only track.

Jeff Gural, who now operates Meadowlands under a long-term lease from the NJSEA, plans to build a full-scale OTB parlor in Bayonne. Legislators otherwise have been unable to spur growth in the OTB market in the state.

The pilot program would be evaluated after three years. With the exception of a 1% “impact fee” paid to the host municipality, the bills calls for the customary revenue splits on pari-mutuel handle.