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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Big Changes Coming to New Jersey?

The world of racing is about to change; especially in New Jersey, if the proposals from Governor Christie’s Gaming, Sports and Entertainment transition team are adopted. While the Governor is committed to maintaining racing in the state, it will look a lot different. The goal of the proposals is to make racing self-sufficient without any state subsidies. While you may read the entire report here, here is my take of what this ultimately means should the proposals be implemented.

• There will be no VLTs or sports betting at New Jersey race tracks.
• There will be a significant cut in the number of racing days in New Jersey for all breeds.
• Purses will no longer be artificially inflated.
• While not specifically mentioned, the days of racing at Freehold Raceway may be numbered.
• The Hambletonian will be looking for a new home.
• The long term goal is to redevelop the Meadowlands and move all racing to Monmouth Park.

Conspicuously absent from the report is any mention of VLTs at any of the race tracks. The report also removes sports wagering from the equation. The report specifically indicates no attempt should be made to introduce intra-state Internet or sports wagering until Federal statute changes.

The report indicates that legislative changes are required to eliminate the current requirement of racing a certain number of days. It is unclear if it calls for just modifying the number of days or eliminating the requirement completely. The report also calls for horsemen agreements to be reopened and renegotiated in terms of racing days and purse structure. Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands would cease and Monmouth Park would race a fifty day thoroughbred meet at Monmouth Park. With the removal of the thoroughbred meet from the Meadowlands calendar, there would be more flexibility for the Meadowlands in its scheduling of a standardbred meet.

Being the report calls for the end of state subsidies after the 2010 calendar year, the Meadowlands will not be able to support the stakes program it currently maintains as wagering will dictate the size of the purse account. It is safe to assume there will no longer be 180 day race meets so overnight purse cuts may not be as severe as they would be if there was no cut in racing days. However, it seems unavoidable that the Meadowlands will be losing its position as the number one track.

While the report does not specifically mention Freehold Raceway, there is reference to a consolidation of racing in the state. My initial suspicion is Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course will be allowed to compete in the market but without subsidies; it seems to be a matter of time before they succumb. The proposal allows the NJSEA to be given control of the remaining allocations unopened OTW sites which Freehold and Atlantic City are unwilling or unable to open (it is noted that OTWs are highly profitable). Legislative changes are being proposed to make it easier to open OTWs.

A long term goal is to seriously consider consolidating racing at Monmouth Park and redevelop the Meadowlands property. Were this to happen, it is clear the Hambletonian will be seeking a new home (assuming it has not already moved due to purse account concerns) as the runners would likely continue racing during the summer. It seems unlikely there would be any consideration to make Monmouth another Woodbine where both breeds can race at the same time. Why close the Meadowlands and not Monmouth Park? The Meadowlands property has more potential for redevelopment.

Many people will be upset with this report but the sad truth is the report is dealing with reality. It is time people deal with the fact there is too much racing going on; more than the industry can support and more than there is demand for. The report states the obvious; the industry cannot expect cash-strapped state governments to continue to subsidize the industry (something states with VLTs will eventually have to face). Stakeholders in the industry are going to be forced to make the tough decisions they have been unwilling to make.

Didn’t the Governor promise to support a strong racing industry? Yes he did. Are these the proposals New Jersey horsemen were hoping for when they supported the Governor during his election campaign? No. The governor has made it clear the state is not going to prop up the industry; it is going to have to survive on its own. This is not an impossible task. If horsemen agree to reduce racing days and accept lower purses, racing will survive. If the horsemen are unwilling to do so, the industry will continue to decline and eventually cease to exist. A strong industry does not necessarily mean ‘big’; it means it is able to sustain itself. Track management and horsemen are going to have to make changes to make the sport competitive in the market. It can be done. There needs to be a willingness to do so.

Jobs are going to be lost. There is going to be pain. Retrenchment is unavoidable. However, out of this retrenchment can grow a stronger self sufficient industry, one which will survive. And if Governor Christie has his way, it will start in New Jersey.


The_Knight_Sky said...

VFTG wrote:

The Meadowlands property has more potential for redevelopment.


Redevelopment with what exactly?

The Xanadu complex has all but failed. And they want to tear down the house that Sonny Werblin built ? Absurd !!

Why do I get the feeling that this is some kind of 'scare tactic'?
Long live The Big M!

Pacingguy said...

Well as the report would indicate, NASCAR is a potential use of the land. Of course, commercial development is a possibility.

I know this may sound like herasy, but it is not as important that the Meadowlands survive, rather a strong top notch standardbred program, even if it was at Monmouth Park. With the vast majority of the wagering now occuring off track, the need to be in the immediate NYC area is not essential; being in Oceanport, may be close enough.

Case in point. WEG closed Greenwood Raceway and moved their dates to Woodbine which was an exclusive t-bred track. It worked in Canada and could happen here.

That being said, if the Meadowlands closed, my guess is it would be at least five years down the road, assuming this report is accepted and adopted; no sure thing.

The_Knight_Sky said...

Having been a patron at The Big M since the mid-80's and the days of GM Sam Anzalone it is true that simulcasting now rules over live racing but still....

Consolidating both breeds of racing at Monmouth Park is outlandish! And yet we don't know if locals would allow for year around night time racing in Oceanport.

If anything, the NJ Thoroughbred Horsemen are reluctant to race upstate. Currently they ship-in on race day instead of being stabled on the backstretch. When that started happening I knew the T-breds days would be numbered at the Big M. As a result they've killed off what should be a solid Labor Day to Halloween "boutique meet". Typical of the selfishness in this industry!

As for the Sulky Side, how much is too much? To conduct harness racing from January to August is already tedious, but I can't see how extending the meet would make it a better program AND thrive under a sans-subsidy purse structure.

Pacingguy said...

I suspect not having the runners stabled at the Meadowlands was more of a cost savings for the Meadowlands rather than a refusal of the runners to come up. The Meadowlands wanted to close the stable area for the standardbreds; it took paying for stall space to keep it open.

There is no thought about expanding the standardbred meet; it will be contracted. By flexibility, I suspect they meant being able to race at different times of the year.

As for Oceanport not allowing night time racing, I suspect if the option was to allow night time standardbred racing or moving all the racing to the Meadowlands, they would allow it.

Of course, this is all preliminary. It will be quite a battle to get this implemented.

The_Knight_Sky said...

Pacingguy wrote:

I suspect not having the runners stabled at The Meadowlands was more of a cost savings for the Meadowlands.


Perhaps. But they must have known that no horses on the backside would hurt the field sizes. And it has over the years. The fall thoroughbred meet used to be far classier, far more exciting than it has been over the past 10 years.

On track stabling is part 'n parcel of having a strong meet. But if the many horsemen are reluctant to be housed there even for two short months, then I see no hope of revived thoroughbred meet in East Rutherford.

In other words, have a strong "boutique" thoroughbred meet from Labor Day to Halloween or none at all.

As for the standardbreds, "less is more" there also. Make every week of racing count.

Steve said...

This has been coming for years..
The state of NJ has sat and watched DE,PA, NY,and WVA put slot parlors in and flourish..
Look how long it took NJ to get OTW sites..
NJ is completely corrupt, too many hands out. Worse than NY, if that is possible..
NJ has the harness racing world by the sack for 25 years, making untold profits..They ignored what was happening in their business, and now they are looking at racing extinction..
Very sad....