NJ Track Leases Approved, But Issues Remain

The governor has signed off on the lease of Monmouth Park and Meadowlands.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed off on lease agreements for Monmouth Park and Meadowlands effective June 1, but pressing issues remain.

Christie, a Republican, made the announcement May 12 after a meeting with the lessees—Morris Bailey for Monmouth and Jeff Gural for Meadowlands. The governor touted the agreements in a statement.

“I was determined to bring this deal home,” Christie said. “There are many beneficiaries. We’re saving a New Jersey tradition with the continuation of live horse racing at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park; we are saving and creating jobs; and we are helping to preserve New Jersey farmland and a way of life for many people, from horse farm owners and employees, to jockeys to racing enthusiasts.”

The governor’s office, however, noted the lease agreements “are subject to the executive of formal contracts, formal board approvals, and other regulatory approvals.”

In the case of Monmouth, which begins its 2011 meet May 14 under the auspices of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Bailey and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association must agree upon a revised racing schedule.

By law Monmouth was awarded 141 days of live racing, but given projected purses of about $400,000 per day, that appears unlikely. The governor’s office said Monmouth will “run a reduced slate of racing days for 2011, similar to the 2010 racing schedule” even though the New Jersey THA hasn’t publicly stated it has signed off on that plan.

Bailey also must strike deals with various unions that represent Monmouth employees. And Thoroughbred horsemen want to ensure they receive a healthy cut of revenue from any handle on Thoroughbred races at Meadowlands.

“I’m excited by the fact that we are completing a transaction that will bring about a new era for horse racing in New Jersey and Monmouth Park,” Bailey said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the parties involved, especially Gov. Christie and his staff and the Thoroughbred horsemen, for working so diligently to meet the challenges we confronted.

“With what we are accomplishing, we are creating one of the premiere race tracks in the country that will provide an attractive and exciting atmosphere to appeal to established horse racing fans and, I believe, the broader public.”

Meanwhile, the New Jersey THA sent a letter to Freehold Raceway May 10 stating the harness track, located about a half-hour from Monmouth, wouldn’t be able to offer the Monmouth signal or signals from other Thoroughbred tracks effective May 14. Freehold, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. and Greenwood Racing, has imported the Monmouth signal for roughly five years.

There are legal ramifications, including a statewide racing participation agreement. New Jersey, like Ohio, mandates any signals received by a wagering outlet must be available to all outlets in the state or no facility gets them.

The NJSEA on May 13 told Freehold that it would send the Monmouth signal to the harness track.

Meadowlands reopened for live harness racing May 7 after Gural struck a deal with the mutuel tellers’ union. He ultimately plans to build a smaller, modern grandstand where the barn area is located in an effort to bring the track back to profitability.

“The deal that we’ve reached together will be good for the taxpayers, good for horse racing, and great for the Meadowlands,” Gural said. “I look forward to returning the Meadowlands to its former glory and preeminent position in horse racing in the United States.”

Interestingly Bailey and Gural have gaming ties in a state that so far has rejected racetrack-based gaming. Bailey is part owner of Resorts Casino Atlantic City in New Jersey, while Gural operates two New York harness tracks with video lottery terminals.

Both men will be responsible for all track operations, including full-card simulcasts, operation of off-track wagering facilities and expansion of the OTW network, and an in-state advance deposit wagering system. The governor’s office said Bailey and Gural would work together on developing the OTW network; only three of an authorized 15 parlors have been built, two of them by private operators.

Bailey will get the lucrative Woodbridge Township OTW facility. Gural plans to build one in Bayonne, not far from Meadowlands.