Legislation authorizing the privatization of Monmouth Park and Meadowlands as well as a period of joint operation with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has been signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.
The action is yet another step in a lengthy process that began last year. Christie had ordered the NJSEA to get out of the horse racing business while at the same time denying the racing industry any financial assistance from the state or Atlantic City casino industry.
In deals finalized this spring, Morris Bailey agreed to lease Monmouth, while Jeff Gural assumed control of Meadowlands.
“My goal has always been to ensure a financially sound and independent future for New Jersey’s storied horse racing legacy,” Christie said Aug. 5. “With the legislation I am signing today, we are taking the critical next step toward securing an independent and self-sustaining horse racing industry in the Garden State—one that no longer depends upon casino subsidies for its survival.
“We are also saving the state’s beleaguered taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in annual operational subsidies at both venues.”
Despite the governor’s comments, some racing industry representatives believe it’s only a matter of time before gaming expands to at least Meadowlands given Atlantic City’s inability to compete with casinos in neighboring states. Gural, a developer, operates two racetrack casinos in upstate New York, while Bailey is co-owner of Resorts Atlantic City.
The new law allows the NJSEA the right to jointly operate the tracks before license transfers are complete. The New Jersey Racing Commission can extend the transitional period for a “reasonable amount of time” but not beyond two years from the date the lease agreements are executed.
The law also permits Monmouth to race only 71 days this year—the same number as 2010—rather than the 141 mandated by another law, and allows for “flexibility in the manner in which simulcast funds are divided between the breeds as long as such alternative distribution is agreed upon by the horsemen’s organizations and the racetrack operators.”
As part of their lease deals, Bailey and Gural won the right to build off-track wagering parlors; thus far only three have been built.