Horsemen in New Jersey are finally getting down to business. While racing interests are still talking about the need for slots, the reality is there will be no slot machines at New Jersey tracks, nor will there be any hush money from Atlantic City. The reason I call it hush money instead of a subsidy, is it is more accurate. The $30 million racing has received the last three years was a payment to the racing industry to be quiet and not seek slot machines for the tracks; Atlantic City paying the tracks for slot exclusivity. So Standardbred and Thoroughbred interests are getting together to work on a business plan for racing to be submitted to Governor Christie.
No doubt the plan will call for a reduction in race dates in New Jersey for both breeds and offering purses that will exceed those being offered by neighboring states in an effort to secure the best horses, but without an influx of revenue, those plans will fall flat. A key piece of the revenue pie will be OTW sites. The few OTWs operating in New Jersey have been very successful. But the legislation authorizing OTWs had a serious flaw by giving municipalities the right to reject an OTW simply because they didn't want one, even if the proposed site meet zoning requirements. This 'home rule' power needs to be taken away. Legislation needs to be introduced to either take away the municipalities right to reject an OTW just because they don't want a gambling site in town, or in typical New Jersey style, offer a percentage of the profits to towns hosting an OTW as an incentive and watch the objections to OTWs disappear (In addition, there has been talk that the horsemen groups will buy a 40% equity stake in the OTWs, providing the capital to build out the network and ensure a significant part of the profits will be reinvested in racing.).
Other revenue sources which likely will be included in the equation is expect exchange wagering and possibly internet gambling to be part of the package. as there currently are bills in the legislature to authorize both of these gaming options. The internet gambling proposal would allow New Jersey residents to play casino games online at home with gaming servers being located in Atlantic City to meet constitutional requirements. I suspect the internet gaming option will face court challenges for violating the state constitution.
Any business plan must include Freehold Raceway and to a lesser degree, Atlantic City Race Course. While both of these racetracks are not state owned, racing dates at these tracks will and must figure in the long term viability of the state racing and breeding industries. A hundred days at the Meadowlands will not be sufficient to support standardbred breeding; they need the additional racing dates for New Jersey bred horses Freehold will provide.
Today's final session of the New Jersey Gaming Summit at Monmouth Park should provide some interesting fireworks as Jon Hanson, the chair of the commission which authored the much maligned Hanson Report will find himself in the hot seat trying to defend the report which, if adopted, would have resulted in the virtual destruction of the standardbred industry in New Jersey. I expect by the end of his testimony, his report will be totally discredited.