Lengthy Purse Dispute Resolved in New Jersey

A lengthy dispute over purse funds has been resolved in New Jersey.

A battle over purse supplements for a New Jersey harness track that dates back to 2008 was resolved with the Feb. 6 announcement that purses at Freehold Raceway will increase by almost $5 million over the next year.

Freehold owner Pennwood Racing, a partnership of Penn National Gaming Inc. and Greenwood Racing, had balked at restrictions tied to a three-year purse subsidy from Atlantic City casinos. The language of the agreement stated the two Pennsylvania companies—not just Freehold—couldn’t pursue gaming outside of Atlantic City.

The three-year purse subsidy, worth a total of $90 million, expires this year. Various governor-ordered committees are studying ways to improve the economics of horse racing and the casino industry in New Jersey, but it remains to be seen if a plan will be in place for 2011.

“I think everyone understands this is a temporary solution, and a long-term funding and business plan for all segments of racing—racetracks, horsemen, breeders, and our customer base—to survive in New Jersey is necessary and urgently needed,” said Chris McErlean, PNGI vice president of racing and president of Pennwood. “Freehold has expressed its desire to be part of that process before, and will reiterate that position again.”

A recent report on the issues faced by New Jersey racing and gaming made no mention of the role privately-owned Freehold and Atlantic City Race Course would play in the future. Freehold races almost 170 days a year and its wagering network accounts for about 25% of pari-mutuel handle in New Jersey, while Atlantic City is an underutilized resource.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth Park and Meadowlands, oversees the casino purse subsidy and agreed to release $4.8 million to Freehold, the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey said in a release.

About $4.2 million will be disbursed through February 2011. Increases will be targeted toward increasing the quality of races and field size at Freehold; the SBOANJ said it will “work to ensure that New Jersey-sired, -bred, and -owned horses benefit from this purse enhancement.”

Purses for most classes will increase about 30% effective Feb. 18, officials said.

Atlantic City will kick off the 2010 Thoroughbred racing season in New Jersey with six all-turf programs from April 18-24. The New Jersey Racing Commission earlier had pressed the track, owned by Greenwood, to race at least 20 days a year but backed away from its demands after Atlantic City agreed not pursue a piece of the casino purse subsidy.