heir proposals call for streamlining operations at both the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks to cut operating costs, experimenting with new kinds of wagering to bring in more money and the opening of more off-track betting locations in an effort to keep horse racing alive in New Jersey.
They would also legalize intrastate internet gaming through Atlantic City’s casinos, while allowing voters to decide whether to allow sports betting. "The governor put a report out that created winners and losers — the casinos were the winners and the tracks were the losers," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said. "We came up with what I think are more viable options."
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, had no comment. "We’re reviewing it," he said. The Republican administration set the stage for the debate after a special governor’s commission led by Jon F. Hanson proposed a state takeover of Atlantic City’s gaming and entertainment district and an end to state support for the struggling horse racing industry, which loses millions each year. The Hanson report said the Meadowlands Racetrack should be sold or turned into an off-track wagering facility without live horse racing.
In the wake of that report, the Democrats, reluctant to close the tracks or the horse farms that supply them, held their own series of "gaming summits" to come up with alternatives. Those hearings, though, also served to underscore the deep divide between North Jersey — where the political powers have long pushed to permit gambling at the Meadowlands — and officials in South Jersey, which remain adamantly opposed to any competition with Atlantic City.
Meadowlands gaming ended up a non-starter for the Democrats. "From my perspective, it’s not something I was ever going to agree to," said Sen. Jim Whelan, who chaired the legislative hearings with Assemblyman John Burzichelli. But Whelan said they came up with a comprehensive approach that would protect both casino and racetrack jobs. "This is a way for both the casino and horse racing industry to move forward," he said.
Whether the economics will work is yet to be determined. The Hanson report unveiled by the governor would end the us$ 30 million subsidy the casino industry now pays to support the tracks, which lose money despite it.
The Democrats believe the revenues are there. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority cut the race calendar at Monmouth Park and substantially increased the purses, in an effort to attracting better horses, bigger fields and more attention. The plan worked far better than anyone thought, although the track is still losing money.
Under the legislative proposal, the Meadowlands Racetrack would continue the Monmouth Park "elite meet" experiment. At the same time, the Democrats believe cutting the red tape to allow more off track wagering sites, and the introduction of legal intrastate internet gaming would be enough to save the racing industry.
Senator Raymond J. Lesniak said internet gaming and sports betting will bring in millions more and remain key to the resurgence and long-term survival of both Atlantic City and the state’s horse-racing facilities.
The legislative group endorsed many of the Hanson commission findings, but rejected the governor’s proposal to create a new state authority that would be given broad zoning and planning oversight for Atlantic City’s casino district. They would instead expand the power of the existing Casino Redevelopment Authority. Laws governing casino regulation would be updated.
"What the governor did in July was very helpful, but it did not have a lot of specifics in it," said Whelan, who said proposed legislation is now being drafted to incorporate the alternatives they are proposing. "Hopefully we’ll achieve enough support from all the stakeholders and the governor will ultimately sign it."