Legislators to NJSEA: Move Faster on OTB Network

The New Jersey Assembly stepped up the pressure on the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority May 22 when it passed a resolution urging the agency to open off-track betting parlors that were authorized by a 1998 constitutional amendment legislatively enacted in 2001. Not one parlor has been built to date.

The resolution, approved on a 74-3 vote, says the Assembly "urges the (NJSEA) to focus all the necessary efforts of its staff and its resources as may be required to expedite the establishment of off-track wagering facilities in order to fulfill the promise of the law and halt the decline of the horse racing industry in the state."

By law, the NJSEA, which operates Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, is the only entity that can be licensed to operate OTB parlors. It must enter into a "participation agreement" with Pennwood Racing, the company that owns Atlantic City Race Course and Freehold Raceway and plans to open parlors in southern New Jersey.

The law allows 15 OTB parlors, nine of which would be operated by the NJSEA. The 2001 law also authorized account wagering, which has been implemented by the NJSEA in partnership with Pennwood.

"We have had an (OTB) law on the books for five years, and the state has nothing to show for it," Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, whose district is located in southern New Jersey, said in a recent release. "New Jersey should be at post time on off-track wagering and we don't even have the horses on the track."

Van Drew is chairman of the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee, which sent the resolution to the full Assembly for consideration, and also Assistant Majority Leader.

"The delays on this are costing this state millions of dollars," he said in the statement. "The situation is unacceptable and inexcusable. Expanding off-track wagering in New Jersey would help create a new stream of revenue to relieve some of the budget pressures in the state. More must be done if New Jersey is to maximize its investment in off-track betting."

NJSEA officials couldn't be reached for comment on the status of their plans for the off-track betting network.

The resolution states the NJSEA and Pennwood are awaiting a final determination from the state Attorney General's office on an OTB license for Vineland in southern New Jersey. It also says the NJSEA is negotiating a lease in Middlesex County in the central part of the state, and reviewing prospective sites in Bergen, Hudson, Hunterdon, and Morris counties in northern New Jersey, and coastal Ocean County.

The resolution says the agency hopes to have seven OTB parlors operational by the end of 2011, and that it continues to study return on investment, the political climate, and potential impact on existing simulcast and live racing operations around the state before any facilities are built.

According to the 2001 law, 6% of handle generated at an OTB parlor or through the statewide account wagering system goes to in-state tracks for overnight purses; 0.6% to special trust accounts; 0.2% for breed development programs; and 0.2% for benevolence programs. Another 0.6% would go toward health and welfare for harness racing, and breeder and stallion programs for Thoroughbred racing.

Atlantic City, which this year offered four days of all-turf racing, serves as a year-round simulcast facility and must offer some live racing to maintain its license. It is not, however, considered an OTB parlor. Garden State Park in Cherry Hill Township closed several years ago, and Pennwood, which owned the track, kept a 10-acre parcel of the property in the hope of constructing an OTB parlor.