Barring a reversal by mutuel clerks that refused to vote on a proposal for wage concessions, it appears Meadowlands in New Jersey will not reopen for harness racing in May, and the track’s simulcast operation will shut down.
Developer and New York racetrack owner Jeff Gural put together a deal to lease Meadowlands from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which has been ordered by Republican Gov. Chris Christie to get out of the horse racing business. Gural put together financing to eventually build a smaller grandstand on the property, but other issues, such as deals with unions, needed to be in place by an April 15 deadline agreed upon by Gural and Christie.
The NJSEA is in negotiations with Morris Bailey, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder who owns Resorts Casino Atlantic City, for the lease of Monmouth Park.
The Meadowlands situation has huge ramifications for harness racing in New Jersey and the United States, as well as simulcast markets. Since it opened in 1976, Meadowlands has been known as the leading harness track in the country.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed with the vote yesterday by the tellers not to ratify the proposal we gave them to extend their contract three years at the expiration of the existing contract next February,” Gural said in a statement. “This is extremely disappointing considering I have actually raised the money, which I thought was the hard part.
“I believe we are very close to an agreement with the state with only two or three open points remaining. At this point, I think we have to assume that the Meadowlands will not reopen for racing on May 7 unless the tellers reconsider.”
Christie issued his own statement, saying the union’s April 14 decision not to consider Gural’s proposal is a “fatal obstacle” to the future of harness racing at Meadowlands.
“In the face of unsustainable racetrack losses, and the recognition that jobs and livelihoods could nonetheless be saved, substantial progress had been made to save Standardbred racing in negotiations with Mr. Gural,” Christie said. “That progress included the overwhelming acceptance by another racetrack union of new contract provisions.
“Apparently, one group has decided on its own to put at risk the livelihoods of many others. We were patient and accommodating, but these deadlines for achieving self-sustaining horse racing are very real. This is an unfortunate outcome to say the least.”
Christie since his election has been known for taking on unions.
The governor said full-card simulcasts would end at Meadowlands May 12, leaving a big hole in northern New Jersey. The closest offtrack wagering facility is located in Woodbridge Township between Meadowlands and Monmouth.
The NJSEA earlier said it would reopen Meadowlands for about a week in the summer so the Hambletonian, the premier U.S. stakes for trotters, can be held as scheduled.
Meadowlands last held Thoroughbred racing in the fall of 2009. It is, according to the latest calendar, scheduled to offer several all-turf programs for Thoroughbreds later this year, but that could be in doubt given the latest developments.