NJ Commission: Close Meadowlands After 2011

Monmouth Park would offer harness racing under a New Jersey commission plan.

Live racing at the nation’s premier harness track would end under a recommendation from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s panel on the future of casinos and racetracks in the state.

A commission chaired by developer Jon Hanson released a supplemental report Nov. 15 saying there is no way New Jersey can support two state-run tracks. For that reason, it proposes ending live racing at Meadowlands and consolidating it at Monmouth Park.

The plan also calls for the two tracks to be sold to the private sector. Meadowlands would be used as an off-track betting facility under the plan.

“We have reached the conclusion that there is no viable self-sustaining industry model based upon two government-operated racetracks,” the commission wrote. “Consequently, we present a direct and difficult solution to a problem that has been in the making for decades.”

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the Republican governor is studying the recommendation, and he declined further comment.

The task force said Monmouth is set to lose $6.6 million this year, and Meadowlands an additional $11 million.

The proposal would allow a six-day Standardbred meet at Meadowlands next August. Standardbreds would race 30 days at Monmouth in the fall of 2011, and have a 70-day meet there in subsequent years.

Thoroughbreds would race 59 days a year at Monmouth from May to September. It would take about $4.6 million worth of investment and upgrades to get Monmouth ready for the consolidation.

The commission’s recommendation was released about an hour after a state Senate panel introduced bills that would make the biggest changes in how Atlantic City’s 11 casinos are overseen and protected since gambling was legalized in the city 32 years ago, including relaxing some of New Jersey’s strict regulations.

The legislature responded to a call by Christie to assert more state control over the nation’s second-largest gambling market, even as it does away with some rules the industry finds oppressive.

“The fundamental method of how we have been doing things over the last 30-plus years has got to change,” said State Sen. James Whelan, the Democratic former mayor of Atlantic City. “We have to deal with the reality of the day: The revenues are going down, going down, going down. Doing nothing or tinkering around the edges is not going to get us where we need to be.”

Lawmakers are proposing a tax on Internet gambling revenues to help the state’s racetracks. Should federal law be changed to allow Internet gambling, New Jersey would impose a state tax on it and send $30 million a year from the new tax to the horse racing industry, which has battled the casinos for state support for years.

The new tax money would replace the $30 million a year casinos reluctantly handed over to the tracks in return for the state banning slot machines from the tracks. The racing industry has long wanted slots, saying the gambling machines are the only way it can survive against racetrack casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.