Since action is getting slow this time of year, it seems like a good time to review some of the proposed legislation in New Jersey which will have an impact on racing. Some of the legislation quite honestly is of little concern to the gambler, though there is one peice of legislation which reduces weakens ethic protection for the gambler when it comes to the racing commission by eliminating the two year ban on a commissioner or employee working for a racing licensee. Then there is one piece of legislation which clearly hurts horse racing. Let's take a look.
A bill was introduced yesterday in the General Assembly of the New Jersey Legislature (A-3489) which allows for a portion of expired mutuel tickets and take out on wagers to be contractually diverted from the purse account for the benefit of 'standardbred horse racing and breeding'. My only concern with this bill is what qualifies as for benefit of the racing and breeding industry. If the money is used for the benefit of horseplayers (pool guarantees or seeding, marketing, etc.) or to resurrect the breeding industry in the state it's one thing, but the definition as to what constitues the benefit of the industry should be tightened up to avoid misuse of funds.
Meanwhile, no action has yet been taken on Assembly bill A-2913, which is a bill raising the amount of money which may diverted from the purse account for horsemen aid programs and SBOANJ expenses from 3.2% to a maximum of 5%. Considering insurance programs and operating expenses increase while wagering has decreased and nothing in this legislation will result in a detriment to the horseplayer, this legislation appears to have merit.
Senate bill S-2173 which was passed its first committee vote 3-0 (2 absteintions) is bad legislation, as it would remove the restrictions on employment of former commissioners or commission employees in the racing industry for two years. There is a reason these restrictions were put in place, to ensure there be no conflict of interest in performing duties for the NJRC. Were this legislation to pass, what is to keep someone to be influenced with a promise of employment in return for preferential treatment. A similar bill S-1645 also lifted this restriction but required the State Ethics Committee to approve employment which provided a safeguard. This bill should die.
As reported by John Brennan of The Record, perhaps the most heinous action yesterday in Trenton was the introduction of substitute legislation for Assembly bill A-2578 which previously permitted only Internet poker to take place provided the servers were located in Atlantic City. The new piece of legislation would permit any casino game to be played online. Clearly, anything that permits more casino games to be made available online will hurt horse racing. Of course, if the bill is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor, I would expect a constitutional challenge to the law.
I realize this is a rhetorical question, but why is the state legislature trying to kill horse racing off? First they refuse to allow a casino to be put in the Meadowlands to 'protect the turf of Atlantic City' despite the fact New Jersey residents are already playing in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania. True, they are trying to give sports wagering to the racetracks, but the bill would not have passed without including Atlantic City. Now, not satisfied enough to give Atlantic City online poker in a constitutionally questionable piece of legislation, they decide to allow the casinos to open a full fledged virtual casino on the Internet which benefits the casino industry, despite the harm it will have on horse racing. I realize some legislators are buying the casino's argument off that horse racing is a dying sport, but does that mean they have to help dig the grave?
If the legislature is truly trying to support horse racing in New Jersey, they need to give racing access to another source of rvenue which either Atlantic City has or they need to give a new unique form of revenue to the tracks.
A Look Back in Time: Thanks to Publicity Director extraordinaire John Manzi for bring this look back at a moment of harness racing history to my attention. Here is a newsreel feature of the 1948 Hambletonian contested at Good Time Park in Goshen, New York which was won by Demon Hanover (Harrison Hoyt). Good Time Park was a kite-shaped track (three turns) which was down the road from still operating Historic Track. Note the size of the crowd in attendance.