Jersey Horsemen: 'We Are Not Going Quietly'

Racing community reacts to report saying state control of Meadowlands not viable.

About 150 members of the harness racing community met at Meadowlands July 29 to discuss their options in the wake of a recent report that suggests racing at the New Jersey track is no longer viable under state ownership.

The meeting was called by the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey.

“We are not going quietly into the night,” SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said. “We have a battle to fight, and both the Thoroughbred horsemen and the Standardbred horsemen are united in this battle.”

The report, authored by a committee created by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, dismissed the concept of having video lottery terminals at racetracks yet insists horse racing must support itself. New Jersey racing is in the third and final year of a $90 million purse supplement paid by Atlantic City casinos to keep the racing industry from pursuing VLTs.

The casino payment is frequently mischaracterized as a “subsidy.” It's actually a direct payment from casino companies to the state, which operates Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, to keep the state from competing with them. The state then funnels the money into purses.

Luchento told horsemen officials are studying options that include a harness meet at Meadowlands similar to this year’s Thoroughbred experiment at Monmouth—a shorter meet with much higher purses. Meadowlands offers live harness racing from January-August, and again in the fall.

Luchento also called for expansion of off-track betting and a share in ownership and dedicating various racing taxes to purses. He also said: “We have not given up on a purse-enhancement agreement—or even racinos.”

There are legislators, particularly those in the northern and central parts of New Jersey, that support VLTs or full casino gambling at Meadowlands. Christie has told them racetrack gaming isn't an option.

The Christie report cited the success of this year’s Monmouth meet but offered no future support from the state. During a July 29 press conference for the IZOD Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority president and chief executive officer Dennis Robinson touted the Monmouth experiment and didn’t mention the report.

“It has brought new hope, new energy, and bigger crowds,” Robinson said, noting the meet could become “the model for the future of the racing industry in this country.”

The experiment was made possible via a one-year legislative change. Unless new legislation is approved, a requirement for 141 days of Thoroughbred racing each year through 2016 remains in place.

New Jersey legislators are starting a traveling “gaming summit” to discuss the Christie report and its recommendations, all of which must meet with the General Assembly’s approval before they are enacted. Meetings are being held around the state.

“Our appeal to the state is not only for the preservation of racing, but also the land that is dedicated to horse farms, training centers and the supporting industries,” Luchento said. “This is a ‘Green Acres’ issue in this state. Already half the open space in New Jersey has been developed, and more will follow.”