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Saturday, October 31, 2009

NJ Gubernatorial Election - An Act of Faith

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to decide which gubernatorial candidate would be best for New Jersey racing interests and must confess, I have been befuddled. First of all, based on the political winds blowing in the statehouse, the chance of VLTs coming to NJ racetracks anytime soon is slim to none. In the opinion of this writer, the best NJ racing interests can hope for is a governor willing to hold the VLT sword over Atlantic City casinos to ensure the casino industry is 'willing' to continue subsidies to racing in order to keep racing on life support (though make no mistake, if there is another supplement, it will not be as generous as the current agreement). In fairness to all the candidates, I will discuss them in alphabetical order and let you make the decision as to which candidate you should support.

Christopher Christie (R)

Christie has told several newpaper editorial boards that he opposes an expansion of gaming in the Meadowlands, including VLTs. Some people in racing feel that Christie's anti-VLT position is not as firm as he states. Perhaps this feeling comes from a meeting Christie had with racing interests back in February; maybe it is more wishful thinking due to annoyance at Corzine for publicly coming out and opposing VLTs at the Meadowlands. The basis for my reasoning? On September 4, Assemblymen John Amodeo and Vince Polistina unveiled a 10-point plan to revitalize the Atlantic City region. Let me draw your attention to the third point of their plan:

Do not allow VLTs at horse racing tracks and end purse subsidies.

Who was in attendance at the press conference announcing this plan? Christopher Christie. You can read more about this plan and Christie's appearance at the press conference announcing this plan here. Based on his appearnace at this particualr press conference, I believe you need to take him at his word when he says no VLTs.

As to Christie's plans for racing? He has no record on racing to review nor has he said anything publicly regarding racing, pro or con. Based on his public statements, we don't know if he will support racing at all or be the one to put it out of business.

Jon Corzine (D)

No doubt racing interests have a right to feel they were thrown under the bus by Corzine. Anyone who thought he was an honest broker because he had established a blue ribbon panel to discuss the future of racing and its funding had to be disappointed when he vowed to oppose VLTs at racetracks, before 'his' panel had a chance to release their recommendations, Make no mistake about it, he threw racing under the bus in an effort to secure South Jersey votes in a tight gubernatorial election.

Some people point to a comment Corzine made where he indicated if anything were to be approved for the Meadowlands, he would favor a full casino over VLTs. However, being Corzine has already voiced his support for the casino industry, I suspect this possibility was offered just so pro-racing interests have something to hang their hopes on (he himself downplayed this prospect afterwards). Remember, for a full casino to come to the Meadowlands, it requires a change to the state constitution meaning an expensive referendum battle. Being New Jersey does not allow public initiatives, any referendum would have to first be approved by the state legislature. Being it appears a new senate president who is anti-VLT will be selected after the election, the chances of the legislature approving a referendum is slim. Realistically, the only way a full casino would be considered for The Meadowlands is if New York were to approve table games at Yonkers and Aqueduct. If you want to look for anything hopeful in Corzine's comments, it is his refusal to address purse supplements with the editorial board of the Press of Atlantic City.

Since Corzine has been governor, he does have a track record which can be examined. Until Corzine dropped the anti-VLT bomb, it could be said Corzine has been a friend of racing. Corzine did help engineer the current purse enhancement agreement which requires Atlantic City Casinos to provide $30 million in purse supplements to New Jersey racetracks for three years with the current agreement due to expire at the end of 2010. Without the current purse supplement agreement, Freehold likely would have closed, the Meadowlands harness program would probably be on par with Balmoral, and the thoroughbred program at The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park would remind people of racing at Penn National before VLTs were introduced.

So the question is, if Corzine is re-elected, what type of governor will he be for racing in his second term? Will he be the 'throw racing under the bus' governor or will he seriously consider the report his blue ribbon panel produces in 2010 to see if there is some middle ground and failing that, will he support another purse supplement agreeement and be willing to expend political capital fighting the South Jersey contingent in the legislature to push it through?

Chris Daggett (I)

Chris Daggett, who is running a strong 3rd party candidacy, has gone on record to indicate if he is elected governor, he would appoint his own blue ribbon panel to discuss racing. He is also the only candidate to suggest he is willing to consider VLTs at the Meadowlands only after 'a careful review'. Unfortunately, the chances of a third party candidate winning a statewide office in New Jersey is very remote. Even if he was able to win election, he would face a hostile legistlature which would do its best to stiffle any initiatves a third party governor may attempt to propose.

Three candidates for governor all with a lot of question marks regarding their racing stance. Voting for any of these candidates solely on their racing positions is an act of faith.

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