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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Death Blow to New Jersey?

Racing in New Jersey as we know it may becoming to an end.

Governor Corzine has now gone on record as opposing VLTs at the Meadowlands. This pronouncement has been made while his blue ribbon panel is still meeting on a monthly basis. Rest assured casino interests are popping open their champagne with Corzine's latest pronouncement. With Corzine now being on the record as anti-VLT along with his major party opponent Chris Christie and the anticipated new Senate President being anti-VLTs, the chances of getting VLTs anytime in the next four years is virtually zilch.

Racing in New Jersey, both thoroughbred and standardbred are approaching critical times. Even with the current purse supplement the Meadowlands has been receiving, they have not been able to compete against surrounding states for horses. With a governor and a senate president both opposed to VLTs despite studies which show NJ would benefit with VLTs being introduced at the Meadowlands (all tracks to be precise), how much mood for compromising will the casino interests be within the framework of the blue ribbon panel of gaming and racing interests? Purse supplements? New Jersey racing has been losing ground with the current level of funding from the casinos, how likely will Atlantic City interests be willing to continue funding at increased or at a level the same level as it is with this past agreement? You will be lucky to get gaming interests to agree to any supplements, if at all (Corzine has been non-committal with regards to supplements continuing). The state supplement racing? Highly unlikely considering the constant budget problems the state has every year.

The scenario in New Jersey is certainly bleak. The state, by heeding the call of Atlantic City lobbyists will not only be destroying the horse racing industry, but is forfeiting money which New Jersey residents are spending at racinos in New York and Pennsylvania. How can this play out? Here is one scenario of what can happen:

Expect Freehold Raceway to close after the 2010 season if not earlier. The Meadowlands will become the new Freehold with race cards full of $7,500 claimers, maidens, and non-winners of $3000 conditions.

Horsemen, who will be racing for much smaller purses, will no longer be willing to have the big stake races draining the purse account. The stakes program the Meadowlands currently has will be savaged with the Hambletonian being sent packing and many more of the stake races either cancelled, moved or have significant purse cuts. All of a sudden, all that bad mouthing of a half mile track will disappear, we may have leading trotters actually race in the Yonkers Trot. The strong NJSS program will become a shell of itself as not only will the funding dry up but all the remaining top tier sires will be leaving the state. Racing on a national level will go through a period of turmoil until the industry figures out how the dust will settle.

There was one morsel an extreme optimist could hold on to. Corzine did indicate while opposed to VLTs, if it was going to come, he would do it all the way, meaning a full casino. However, this likely was theoretical rather than reality.

Hopefully, the political winds will change but if not, winter is coming to New Jersey racing and it may never leave.

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