New Jersey Poised to Approve OTB Facilities

By Associated Press

State officials are set to approve a plan to create 15 off-track betting parlors in New Jersey. The plan follows legislation passed in 2001 and a voter referendum approved three years earlier.

Gamblers can already bet on simulcast races in New Jersey, but only in parlors at one of the state's four tracks-- Meadowlands Race Track, Atlantic City Race Course, Freehold Raceway or Monmouth Park.

At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority planed to vote on an agreement with two out-of-state racing companies to set up the off-track parlors.

"It's just like the simulcasting you have now at the Meadowlands or Monmouth Park," said Jim DeBosh, a sports authority spokesman. "This would allow that same thing to be Morristown or wherever."

Unlike the distinctly unglamorous storefront-style OTB parlors in New York, New Jersey will offer off-track wagering, or OTW, in restaurant settings, sometimes called "turf clubs."

Under the agreement, the sports authority would operate nine of the 15 parlors in still-undetermined locations in northern New Jersey. Four others would be operated in the suburban Philadelphia area by Pennwood Racing Inc., which owns the Philadelphia Park racetrack.

The agreement also would involve two other parlors operated in Atlantic and Cape May Counties -- though not in Atlantic City, where a form of off-track betting is already in casinos. Those two parlors would be run by Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns Freehold Raceway and operated the defunct Garden State Park.

New Jersey's harness racing is highly regarded, and the annual Hambletonian, run at the Meadowlands every August, is harness racing's richest race. Thoroughbred racing, however, has fallen on hard times in the Garden State, rapidly losing horses, farms and race days in recent years.

So, to benefit the state's racing industry, which experts say accounts for 40,000 jobs, a share of the proceeds from the off-track parlors would be used to fatten purses at the tracks. Experts say bigger purses mean higher quality racing, which attracts more race fans and bettors.

Dennis A. Drazin, a lawyer and spokesman for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said a larger share of dedicated simulcast wagering revenues should go to the thoroughbred purses from the off-track parlors than currently comes from simulcasting at the tracks. For example, Drazin said only $6 million of the $25 million in dedicated simulcast revenues from the Meadowlands went to thoroughbred purses last year, compared with $19 million for standardbreds.