Agreement in New Jersey: Tracks Need Slot Machines

A hearing Sept. 19 by the New Jersey Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee produced a rare show of unity between Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen as representatives from each testified in favor of legislation that would allow slot machines at four New Jersey racetracks.

"Overall, the meeting went very well," said Barbara DeMarco-Reiche, lobbyist for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "We presented lawmakers with the facts about how the Thoroughbred industry needs a solution like slots to become competitive with neighboring states, and we got a lot of questions from them."

Among those who testified were Tim Hills, Monmouth Park's leading trainer, who told the committee that " these changing times, racing in New Jersey needs to adjust with our competitors," and New Jersey THA president Bud Keegan, who presented lawmakers with information on how neighboring states with slots at racetracks would hurt New Jersey.

While representatives of the Atlantic City casinos were invited, they did not attend the hearing. A spokesperson for the committee's chair, Gary Grear, said another hearing on the bill would be held in October.

Among the information the New Jersey THA provided lawmakers were these sobering statistics:

- In 1987, there were 13,200 Thoroughbreds in the state; in 1997, there were 4,000.

- In 1987, there were 400 farms in the state; in 1997, there were 125.

- In 1987, there was a Thoroughbred crop of 1,252 foals; in 1997, there were 295 foals.

- In 1987, there were 161 Thoroughbred stallions in the state; in 1997, there were 58, and this year, there are only 39.

- In the mid-1980s, there was 340 days of live Thoroughbred racing; next year, it could be as little as 120 days.

- The state has gone from having four Thoroughbred tracks that conducted viable race meets to only two. Garden State Park is history, and Atlantic City Race Course only ran one day in 2002.

In other business, a bill that would allow horsemen to be named to the New Jersey Racing Commission cleared the committee and now moves to the floor of the Assembly for a vote.