NJSEA: Deny Relicensing of Private OTWs

The NJSEA is targeting off-track wagering licenses held by private companies.

The New Jersey Racing Commission Dec. 22 will consider a request by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to yank the licenses of two offtrack wagering facilities operated by private interests in the state.

The licensing of OTW parlors is one item on a short agenda that includes 2011 racing dates for Thoroughbred and harness racing. The NJRC already approved customary dates based on current law, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the action, leaving dates for next year up in the air.

One-year licenses for OTW parlors in Bayonne, Toms River Township, Vineland, and Woodbridge Township are up for renewal. The NJSEA operates the Woodbridge facility and has expressed interest in building one in Bayonne.

The Toms River facility is owned and operated by Pennwood Racing, a partnership of Penn National Gaming Inc. and Greenwood Racing that owns Freehold Raceway. The Vineland parlor is owned and operated by Greenwood, which also owns Atlantic City Race Course.

The NJSEA, according to the NJRC meeting agenda, is asking the commission to deny renewal licenses for Toms River and Vineland and “invalidate” the legislated OTW “participation agreement” that states the NJSEA must enter into agreements with the private companies so they can establish a set number of betting parlors.

The state legislature has approved a host of bills geared toward racing. One of them opens the OTW licenses to private bidding and requires licensees to show progress in opening parlors by January 2012.

Word was circulating that the NJSEA had backed away from the Bayonne project, but the facility’s license is on the agenda for the Dec. 22 meeting. When asked Dec. 15 about the NJSEA’s plans, spokesman John Samerjan said: “There currently are broad discussions going on, and legislation moving, about the future of racing and gaming in the state which need to be resolved. OTW development will definitely be a front-burner issue in 2011 as it is an essential revenue stream for the racetracks.”

There has been general unhappiness among horsemen and lawmakers over the fact only three of 15 OTW parlors have opened. Private track operators have taken issue with being targets given the fact the NJSEA has opened only one of nine for which it's eligible while they have opened two of six.

Earlier this year, PNGI sued its partner Greenwood over delays in building an OTW parlor at or near the former Garden State Park racetrack property. Greenwood has been accused of stalling to protect its racetrack and network of betting parlors located just across the Delaware River in southeastern Pennsylvania.

As for racing dates, 2010 legislation allowed the NJSEA, with the blessing of Thoroughbred horsemen, to hold 71 racing days--all at Monmouth--instead of the mandated 141 for one year. Horsemen would like to continue that schedule going forward, but it hinges on having enough purse money.

Unless the law is changed, New Jersey must offer 141 Thoroughbred racing dates in 2011.