Monmouth County legislators want state to give horse racing fair shake

Monmouth County legislators would like to see further discussion take place before Gov. Chris Christie implements the latest recommendations for horse racing made by his Advisory Commission on Gaming, Sports and Entertainment.

Among the recommendations are moving all racing that currently takes place at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford to Monmouth Park in Oceanport, selling Monmouth Park to a private entity, and decreasing the number of live racing days for both standardardbreds and thoroughbreds below the current legal minimum in New Jersey.

Some Monmouth County legislators have taken issue with decreasing racing days in the face of a lack of additional purse dollars, because cutting the number of days by two-thirds for both breeds would limit the opportunity for the tracks to earn money.

Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-District 12) said the recommendations jeopardize the future of the entire sport in the state.

“There is no feasible way that all of the racing that is currently taking place at the Meadowlands can be moved to Monmouth Park by 2011,” Beck said.

Beck argued that the infrastructure at Monmouth Park could not house harness racing, since the venue has always been a thoroughbred park.

“Also, New Jersey state law regulates the number of racing days at each of the racetracks, and any action to reduce the number of racing days will have to be done through legislative action,” Beck said. “As far as I am concerned, after speaking with a number of experts in this area, the reduction called for in the report will severely damage the viability of maintaining any racing in the Garden State.”

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-District 12) said that horse racing was sustainable and profitable in New Jersey until 2007 when competition began appearing on state borders.

“It can be sustainable again, if given the opportunity,” Casagrande said. “The recommendations from Mr. Hanson’s panel do not afford this opportunity. [The recommendations would force] a sudden and drastic change, instead of one that takes into consideration not only the logistics of preparing a thoroughbred track for an entirely different kind of racing, but the implications a change of this sort will have on the rest of the equine and equinerelated industries in New Jersey. The report is inherently flawed.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (RDistrict 12) agreed with the report, stating that the horseracing industry is at a crossroads and didn’t arrive there overnight.

“Likewise, the solution to the challenges facing the racing industry can also not be expected to take place overnight,” O’Scanlon said. “Expecting the significant changes that the commission’s report calls for to take place in 2011 is unrealistic. The problems facing the horse racing industry are going to take a more measured approach to resolve.”

The Monmouth County legislators said the recommendations will not accomplish the commission’s objectives, which have been stated as “proposing an economically sustainable model for the horse racing industry, without state subsidies” and “proposing a plan that preserves the possibility of live standardbred and thoroughbred racing in the state.” The legislators plan to continue to reach out to the governor with alternatives.

Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (District 30) noted that the recommendations will require legislative approval.

“It is very important that the Legislature be partners in the process to ensure that we preserve and enhance the horse racing industry, thus protecting jobs and open space,” Dancer said. “I look forward to working with the administration to draft legislation that will meet that goal by providing a sustainable business model for one of New Jersey’s most important jobcreating and open-space-preserving industries.”

Assemblyman Joseph Malone III (RDistrict 30) said the commission’s recommendations disgust him.

“It totally disrespects the horse racing industry in New Jersey,” Malone said. “It turns its back on thousands of working men and women in the state, and we need to do better.”

Sen. Sean T. Kean (R-District 11) said he is confident the Christie administration will work to find sustainable options for the horse racing industry in New Jersey.

“Before the Hanson report proposals are enacted, we need to have a debate on how it will impact thoroughbred and harness racing, including looking at job loss and the negative economic repercussions,” Kean said. “Part of this debate should include opportunities for interested parties to weigh in on the proposals. In addition, during these deliberations we have to be mindful of how the horse racing industry preserves open space in Monmouth County and statewide.”