This is a long Tuesday notes section, I suggest you get your cup of coffee and settle in.
On the last day of the legislative session in New Jersey, several laws regarding wagering passed the New Jersey legislature. While the governor refuses to allow racing to benefit from Internet wagering, the state legislature approved sports wagering setting up a battle with the federal government. If the law changes or the state is triumphant in federal court, both the casinos and racetracks are allowed to accept wagers. The legislature also now allows for a three year trial period horseplayers in Central and Northern New Jersey to wager on horse racing at twelve bars and restaurants.
Track holders also have one year to begin open or begin construction of OTWs or forfeit a $1 million bond per facility and lose the right to build that OTW, with the rights to those locations be transferred to others.
One piece of legislation which died in the Assembly after passing in the Senate was a bill that would have transferred $1 million of profits from horse racing wagers made in Atlantic Casino to Atlantic City Race Course for rennovations. Time just ran out on the bill as the Assembly adjourned at 11pm due to the death of GOP Assembly leader Alex DeCroce, apparently a victim of a heart attack. While ACRC currently races thoroughbreds six days a year, any rennovations to the track would have been a benefit for all of horse racing. After all with only 81 days of racing at the Meadowlands, who knows? Someone may have elected to host a harness meet at ACRC in the fall. While $1 million is not a lot, it would have made the facility better. This bill may be reintroduced in the new session which begins today, though the schedule for the first day has been thrown up in the air.
The Pena case is still pending a decision from the judge regarding issuing a temporary injunction. This case is much bigger than Pena itself. If the judge finds the Meadowlands does not have the right for exclusion, it will become the wild west once again unless the NJRC gets a lot stricter on who they license. Of course, if the NJRC got much stricter, they can expect to end up in court defending their decision as to why they ban a horsemen they preiously licensed; they basically are going to need the horseman to slip up somewhere.
What's the state of harness racing in New Jersey? A veternarian in Frankford, NJ suffered a fire which leveled his barn (no horses were injured). In addition to being a vet, Sam Castimore is also the operator of Ideal Farms, a breeder of standardbreds. With the state of racing in the state, it makes no sense for him to rebuild the barn. As Castimore said, "We are in the mecca of harness racing but all of the major stallions have left the state. The current financial conditions for owners and breeders is the worst I have ever seen it."
Maryland horsemen must be concerned with the news from Ocean Downs. This past year gaming revenue was $45 million yet the track lost money due to the high taxation rates for what is in reality a seasonal gambling resort. The Maryland slots legislation has been a disaster from the start and is showing it here. For Ocean Downs' casino and racing to continue, some type of relief is going to be necessary; either cutting the tax rate, cutting subsidies to horse racing, or both. Gaming revenue in July was $5.3 million yet in December only $3 million; yet the cost to keep the facility operating is the same. At present 67% of the revenue is taken by the state as taxes.
Cal Expo issued a nice tribute to Lloyd Arnold, the last major track operator which kept harness racing at two tracks in California, at Golden Bear Raceway in Sacramento and Los Alamitos. California harness racing has never been the same since as it has been relegated to the fairs.
North of the Border, a couple of interesting occurrences:
Congratulations to Dave Briggs for becoming the Publisher of The Canadian Sportsman, harness racings' oldest magazine, now in its 142nd year of publishing. Briggs continues on as the editor of the venerable magazine. FYI, the Sportsman has a website.
The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) has issued a new regulation which allows racetracks to gain a de facto agreement with horsemen by negotiating a contract with a horsemen association or by obtaining individual access agreements with licensed horsemen in good standing. This is to comply with the regulations of the Canadian Pari-mutuel Agency (CPMA) which now requires proof of an agreement between horsemen and tracks for wagering to be allowed. While not the intent of the ORC regulation change, it makes it easier for tracks to negotiate with horsemen associations as the CPMA will be less likely to pull a track's pari-mutuel license.
There is some talk about bringing harness racing back to Assinobia Downs in Manitoba. The thoroughbred horsemen who own the track are willing to have the standardbreds back, if there was a way to get more revenue generated at the track; perhaps a full casino. Don't expect it to occur anytime soon, but it is nice to see the two groups of horsemen talking cooperation instead of adversarial.
Standardbred Press Expands - The Standardbred Press Release blog site has expanded. It now features press releases from the Cal Expo, Meadowlands, Monticello Raceway, Northfield Park, Pompano Park, The Raceway, and Yonkers Raceway. If your track is not included, drop me a line and I'll tell you what is necesary to be included.