Tell me not Bill Finley, racing columnist extraordinaire and supporter of racing, has become one of those who think horse racing can't survive without slot machines? I will confess the Meadowlands will have a tough job competing against racino tracks, but to find the first column Finley writes post-lease agreement is how slots will come to the Meadowlands and how Gural, Lee Amaitis (Cantor Gaming), and Morris Bailey (Monmouth Park) would not have invested in the Meadowlands or Monmouth Park without figuring gaming is coming to the Meadowlands is disheartening. Maybe write about this in your second or third column, but not your first.
I would have expected from Finley that his first column would have been about how it is a new era at the Meadowlands, how Jeff Gural and his young Turks, innovators who has been doing what they can to make racing a prominent part of the Tioga Downs experience will be bringing that dedication and faith in the sport to East Rutherford to help regain the prestige of the Meadowlands so once again, the Meadowlands becomes North America's premier harness track. Write about how the endless possibilities now that the Gural-lead team is leasing the Meadowlands, the sport of parimutuel racing may stabilize or even launch a new renaissance with the lessons learned at East Rutherford possibly expanding to other tracks. What will exchange wagering and single pool wagering due to New Jersey gambling? Instead, we get a column which is practically counting the days until the Meadowlands becomes another recipient of slot revenue welfare to survive; exactly the attitude I feared we would see from horsemen which I mentioned yesterday; do nothing else but being the campaign for slots.
I for one am excited about the Meadowlands being leased by a group led by Jeff Gural. Not for slots, but because of his commitment and love for the sport. For his willingness to think outside the box and do his best to get people to the track as entertainment. Let's not kid ourselves, we may never see the big money gamblers back at the track except for special events; the ADWs and the laptop computer (and hand held devices) has taken care of it. However, he may get new generations to experience the sport as an entertainment option initially and then a gambling activity, starting at $2 a wager which will be our minor leagues for developing the high value gamblers out there in cyber land. Who knows, we may actually have people watching the races live instead of racing in front of empty grandstands? Horse racing may become cool again. Was it any other group without Gural's pedigree, I probably would have cared less as the last thing harness racing needs is another track management with no faith in the sport doing nothing but waiting for slots.
Let me ask this question, if Jeff Gural was so sure slots was coming to the Meadowlands, why is he planning on tearing down the old grandstand? The old building could easily be retrofitted into a casino.
Do I think slots will be coming to the Meadowlands? There is a good chance, but it is far from certain let me itemize the very realistic possibilities which may delay their introduction or reduce the potential contribution to racing:.
- Governor Christie - He claims horse racing needs to be self-sufficient without subsidies. Well, what is slot machines revenue? If the Governor sticks to this position and is re-elected to another term, it means the Christie roadblock can be in place as long as through the 2017 election cycle with the first option for a referendum being in 2018; meaning slots not showing up until 2p19 at the earliest.
- Senate President Sweeney - While racing is indebted to him for helping sheppard some pro-racing legislation through, he has sworn not to allow any legislation expanding gaming's reach to see the light of day in the Senate. As a result, barring another coup changing the Senate leadership or the Republicans winning the Senate, you have a road block there.
- The Referendum process - While I acknowledge a lot has changed in the 30+ years, remember the first attempt to allow casino gambling in the state went down to defeat; only when a referendum was proposed to allow casino gambling in Atlantic City 'to revive the city', did it pass. Will a referendum to expand casino gambling elsewhere pass even if limited to the Meadowlands? Not sure, and number 4 will explain.
- Why a casino at the Meadowlands? Rest assured people of economically depressed areas will be wanting a casino in their communities. This means Newark, led by star Mayor Cory Booker, may be looking for a casino to be put in their community as will Bayonne and other towns. If they are left out a casino referendum, how do the people of Union and Essex county vote? Yes, the state needs the revenue of a casino, but does a referendum putting a casino in a non-economically depressed area get passed? May I remind you that Newark has had a lot of pull lately in the state legislature?
- Cory Booker. What if he becomes the next Governor of New Jersey, where do you think he will want to put a casino?
- If a casino is not physically attached to the Meadowlands, is it automatic that racing gets a share? Remember, Atlantic City casinos with their Wall Street bondholders and financiers can probably outspend the racing lobby if push came to shove.
- What happens if a casino is opened in New York City? Does that minimize the growth of a casino in the Meadowlands?
After all, if you have no confidence in your product how are you going to be able to sell it?.