A lot of people have been skewering Governor Christie since the Hanson Report and in particular, over the Meadowlands slots issue, which was never going to happen even if he wanted it to happen. The political will in the legislature was not only lacking, but in opposition to slots. As much as the Governor 'speaks loud and carries a big stick', Senate President Sweeney has just as much say about slots. By being able to refuse to post a bill he has his own veto power. But credit must be given where credit is due. Governor Christie is like a stern father, he wanted horse racing to survive, albeit without slots or subsidies.
Many people thought the Governor was giving lip service when he said he wanted racing to survive and thrive, but be self sufficient, but Friday showed the Governor was sincere with his appearance as part of the Christie-Gural tag team. Let's look at the facts.
In mid-December, Governor Christie was ready to pull the plug on the Meadowlands. At the last minute Jeff Gural, a person who quite honestly the governor likely knew squat about comes riding in on his white horse. However, after meeting with Gural, Christie was won over sufficiently to give a 90 day extension on the life of the Meadowlands. Why? Christie was probably intrigued when he realized Gural was not your typical racetrack operator. Gural likely tells Christie he is sincerely prepared to make racing profitable without slots or subsidies..
Jeff Gural submits an initial lease agreement. A couple minor things are in dispute, but being impressed with Gural, Christie feels the differences are minor and is probably prepared to compromise on them. It is just a matter of dealing with the unions. As time goes on, Christie learns more about Gural and how things are done at Tioga and Vernon. They are not high per-capita tracks on-track, but he learns something else. These tracks are not your typical tracks, they are entertainment centers. Minor league baseball-type tracks. Family entertainment. Let the high volume wagering come from other sources such as OTWs and ADWs. During this time the Governor comes to a conclusion ‘son of a bitch; this guy may pull it off’. Christie is probably impressed he is dealing with a straight shooter who is not pleading the "save the equine industry in New Jersey" argument; he’s dealing with a visionary, ready to change the way racing is conducted. So the deadline expires and Christie willingly gives Gural a two week extension.
The deadline comes and one union acts up. The tag team gets together and comes up with a plan. Jeff Gural, walks away but doesn't. If Local 137 wants him to talk to the rank and file and they are willing to vote in approval, he is willing to come back. Then the tag is made. Governor Christie speaks, taking out his big stick. The start of the new meet on May 7 is history, and he blames it all on Local 137 and just in case the tellers think they will keep working with simulcasting only, the Governor lowers the boom. On May 12, the first possible day, the tellers are unemployed, shutting down not only live racing, but simulcasting. Everyone will hit the streets and he makes it known who is to blame for it. However, if the union reconsiders and votes to accept a new contract, the Governor, who never changes his mind, can be persuaded to stop the clock and keep things going until an agreement with Gural is finalized. The Governor shows flexibility, something which doesn't happen often.
So the tag team of Christie and Gural puts the squeeze on Local 137. Will the union resist the squeeze and refuse to vote, or will they bend and let a vote on the proposal take place? Who knows? Perhaps it is too late to save the Meadowlands; maybe not.
The point is while Christie did not give racing everything it wanted (far from it), there were three decision points (December, March 31, April 15) where the Governor could have killed off the Meadowlands and he didn't. Even now, he is giving racing one last chance to survive at the Meadowlands. Does this sound like a person who is anti-racing?
No doubt, there will be people who would say a Governor who is against giving welfare to racing is no friend of racing no matter what. However, here is a man who could have done what many suspected Atlantic City wanted him to do; wipe racing off the map. He didn't when he had the opportunity to do so multiple times. And here we are after the last deadline, giving the tellers union a chance for a do over.
Maybe Governor Christie isn't your rich uncle who gives you everything you want, but he is not a head hunter of racing.. He wants to give racing a chance. He is not the villain here.
Status of NJAW? Good question. I assume it will survive regardless, but just in case I sent an email to them asking for confirmation. Never got a response. The shame is I expected them to respond. I think I have a response rate of 2 for 20. Once I get an answer, I will let you know.