Harness racing in New Jersey is in critical condition. Racing can not compete with the tracks in surrounding states due to the lack of slots and the tracks can not break the stranglehold the casino industry has on the state legislature.
Freehold is in the middle of the last two weeks of the current race meet and business continues to be poor. As many of you know, there was a Purse Enhancement Agreement (PEA) which provided subsidies to racing in New Jersey from the casino industry covering 2008-2010. Freehold, through Pennwood (a partnership between Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing) did not accept the subsidy due to a change in terms from the last agreement which would bar Pennwood from attempting to operate slot machines anywhere in New Jersey; past agreements barred Pennwood from seeking slot machines at Freehold only. Being a casino company, Penn National Gaming would not agree to the terms.
The SBOANJ was understandably mad that Freehold declined the purse supplement. However, being Pennwood was barred from the negotiations which gave them a purse supplement, they were under no obligation to accept the terms of the agreement. As a result, purses were slashed significantly. Hence, the exodus of horses once other tracks opened and the quality of racing has fallen dramatically which continues the spiral downward.
The governor, in an effort to address racing's concerns ahead of time has formed another commission to work on how purses can be substained after this PEA expires. The horsemen are represented as are the casinos and the NJSEA (owner of the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park). No representation from Freehold. Conclusion? The casinos, NJSEA and the state has decided Freehold is irrelevant. The horsemen? No protest that Freehold was not being represented in this commission.
Things at the Meadowlands are not much better. Tonight's card features one race for $10,000 claimers and another race for nw4000cd. Previously, the base claiming price was $15,000 and the bottom condition race was nw6000cd. Even with the purse supplement, the Meadowlands can't fill their cards without lowering their standards. These bottom classes at the Meadowlands are racing for $7,500; at Yonkers the same classes are going for $9,000 (as a reference, the bottom classes at Yonkers, $7,500 claimers or nw3000cd are going for $7,000). Hence, don't expect the horse shortage to improve. The Meadowlands is in the process of losing their status as the number one harness track in the United States.
All is not lost. Racing will not disappear in New Jersey. Here is my prediction as to what will happen:
1. The Meadowlands will be purchased or leased by a casino entity (whether one company or a consortium of casino companies). Slots and table games will be offered at the Meadowlands with purses being supplemented by the casino revenue. I say table games will be coming because with table games now being allowed in Delaware, it is a matter of time till table games are allowed in PA and NY. The casino industry will realize the state will need to allow gaming at the Meadowlands because the revenue from Atlantic City will continue to shrink; all of a sudden they will decide they will allow gaming at the Meadowlands provided they control them.
2. The Meadowlands harness meet will be cut to four months; May through August. The thoroughbred meet will be dropped. To compensate the thoroughbred horsemen, they will race at Monmouth from May though September or October. Purses will be higher than they are now so racing at the Meadowlands will be similar to the quality at the Red Mile during the Grand Circuit.
3. Pennwood will decide not to request dates for 2011 or even as soon as 2010 and put the property up for sale. The property will sit idle until the economy improves unless....
4. The NJSEA or successor owner of the Meadowlands purchases Freehold Raceway. Freehold will have it's purses supplemented from slots at the Meadowlands. There will be two race meets at Freehold, March through April and September through October. While purses may not be at the level of the Meadowlands, the quality of racing at Freehold will be better than ever.
These are my predictions. Anyone else see a different scenario?