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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Could Atlantic City Be An Option?

Note:  This blog entry is a modified version of an earlier blog entry which was removed because some people may have taken it as a 'done deal'.  It is merely one of many rumors going around.

There are many rumors being talked about with regards to the future of the Meadowlands.  The trotters could remain at the Meadowlands; they can move to Monmouth Park as mentioned in the transition team study.  What about Atlantic City Race Course as an option?  Would it be a feasible option?  Is there some logic to moving the trotters to there?   

As you know, Atlantic City Race Course is a track twelve miles outside of Atlantic City proper which runs a six day all-turf thoroughbred meet to keep their simulcasting license. For all practical purposes, the track sits unused.  At this time, I don't think ACRC is a serious option, but there could be some logic to it; it may give Atlantic City casinos cover for continuing subsidies and eliminate the possibility of having slots at the Meadowlands. 

Let’s look at some facts. Governor Christie has already indicated his desire to have racing become self-sustaining which suggests no subsidies are forthcoming from the state. The Meadowlands has already lost their thoroughbred counterparts who have left for Monmouth Park and the initial study done by his transition team has previously suggested the Meadowlands be closed with both breeds racing at Monmouth.

Atlantic City Race Course is owned by Greenwood Racing, owner of Philadelphia Park and part owners with Penn National Gaming of Freehold Raceway. At this point, with no hope for VLTs showing up at these properties, both of these companies are likely holding on to their properties, waiting for the right time to make an escape from New Jersey.

Atlantic City gaming interests don’t want to see casino gambling come to the Meadowlands and they are in no mood to extend the subsidy they currently are providing racing. Right now, if not for the determination of horsemen, there would likely be no serious campaign for VLTs at the Meadowlands. Despite all the talk, horsemen must realize unless Senate President Sweeney changes his tune, no bill authorizing a referendum on a casino at the Meadowlands will ever see the light of day in the state senate.

What could make a move to Atlantic City a win-win situation? The mission of the NJSEA could change to not only support racing, but to help make Atlantic City a true resort destination. As part of this new mission, the government conceivably have the NJSEA purchase Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Course. Proceeds from selling most of the Meadowlands property can be used towards the purchase of these properties, in addition to the needed renovations to the ACRC plant; allowing Penn National Gaming and Greenwood to escape New Jersey and get maximum value for their properties.   Since this proposal could be sold as improving the Atlantic City market, perhaps some state assistance in bonding could be justified and secured.  The paddock of the Meadowlands could become an OTW facility.

Once renovations were completed, racing would cease at Freehold and the Meadowlands moving to ACRC. In order to kill off the campaign for slots in the Meadowlands, the casinos decide to offer a purse subsidy for horse racing, their rationale being they will be supporting industry and tourism in the Greater Atlantic City vicinity (which may make Atlantic City a better destination resort). During the transition period, the current subsidy would be extended.

Being their short thoroughbred meet has been successful, the thoroughbreds would run a two week all turf meet at ACRC as a warm up to the Monmouth Park meet. A harness meet would race at ACRC during the summer months into early fall, allowing the Hambletonian to be raced there. In a spirit of cooperation, Harrah’s will change Chester Downs’ race meet so they race during the winter and early spring so there would be less competition for horses.

But why would the standardbreds even consider a return to ACRC when it failed there before? One must remember the dynamics has greatly changed. Back in the late 1960’s and early ‘70s, live attendance and wagering is what supported a racetrack, there was no simulcasting or ADWs. Now, with the vast majority of the wagering taking place off-track, live handle and attendance is not as important. Provided the caliber of racing was similar to what is currently being raced at the Meadowlands, an ACRC signal should be in high demand by horseplayers wagering off-track.

I have my doubts regarding this rumor, but as silly as it sounds, I could not dismiss it completely because in some ways, it could make sense.  Make no mistake, a move to ACRC would remove the Meadowlands from being a top tier track, but it could keep it from becoming another Balmoral.  Were this to be any merit to this rumor, I would hope before any such decision is finalized, a trial meet be staged at ACRC to see if the product would be reasonably well-received. We know standardbred horsemen would prefer to race at the Meadowlands, but if this rumor were to turn out to be true, it may be the best ‘deal’ available.

There was a fire in a forty horse barn at Plainridge Raceway recently. Fortunately, no people and horses were seriously injured in this blaze unlike the fire at Lebanon Raceway. The difference? There were sprinklers in the barns at Plainridge Raceway. Horsemen need to demand sprinklers in racetrack barns even if they need to shoulder some of the expense.

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