NJ Report: More Questions Than Answers

A report on recommendations for New Jersey racing creates more questions.

A transition committee has submitted a report that recommends statewide consolidation of the New Jersey horse racing industry, shorter Thoroughbred meets at Monmouth Park, and the opening of more off-track betting parlors.

The report was given to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was inaugurated earlier in January. Christie defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who earlier created a task force to study the future of racing in the state.

The racing report, which also deals with sports, casino gambling, and entertainment, is one of 19 submitted to Christie. He charged Transition New Jersey subcommittees to review all agencies and make recommendations to “improve, shrink and, in some cases, eliminate wasteful or inefficient government operations,” according to a release.

The racing report makes no mention of putting video lottery terminals at racetracks, though it states the New Jersey casino industry’s “historic business model has failed” and acknowledges competition from casino gambling in border states.

As for horse racing, the committee said the “status quo is not sustainable.” For the better part of a decade, racing has received a purse subsidy from Atlantic City casinos; the most recent deal expires this year and isn’t expected to be extended.

“The ultimate goal is to continue to have live racing at a venue where the (New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority) and its (off-track betting) system can operate without a subsidy,” the report states.

According to the report, Monmouth and Meadowlands are projected to lose a combined $22 million in 2010, a figure that seems high based on current business levels at the tracks. No explanatory financial data was submitted with the transition report.

The NJSEA, which operates both tracks, has a long-term deal with Thoroughbred horsemen on racing dates. The report, however, recommends Monmouth’s meet be reduced to 50 days from almost 100, and the Meadowlands fall Thoroughbred meet be eliminated. Purse money for the Meadowlands meet would be funneled to Monmouth.

The report calls for modification of statutes “to provide management more flexibility in staging live racing, for example, existing purse contracts.” It makes no mention of the role of horsemen’s groups in negotiations for racing dates and purses.

Racing dates for 2010 have already been awarded. There will be 147 Thoroughbred dates (93 at Monmouth, 48 at Meadowlands, and six at Atlantic City Race Course). There will be 310 harness dates (168 at Freehold Raceway and 142 at Meadowlands).

The report fails to discuss the role Atlantic City and Freehold could play in the future other than to suggest their unused OTB licenses be rescinded. The two tracks are owned and operated by Pennsylvania-based casino and racing companies.

In an interview with The Blood-Horse, attorney Dennis Drazin, recently appointed to the New Jersey Racing Commission and for five years president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said there has been talk of converting Atlantic City into a year-round training facility. He also said Corzine’s task force would issue a report on its findings in July 2010.

The 16-member transition committee included Mike Gullota, chief executive officer of DEO Volente Farm, which breeds Standardbreds, and Vince Curatola, identified as an actor and racing fan.

“These reports are full of bold ideas and recommendations for change from a bipartisan group of individuals from the private and public sectors,” Christie said in a statement. “They came to the task with a wide range of knowledge and expertise, and gave us unvarnished assessments of our state government, its strengths, weaknesses, and failures.”