Panel recommends taking horse racing out of Meadowlands for OTW site

Horse industry up in arms over latest recommendations from state gaming commission


Live horse racing at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford would end if the state implements recommendations contained in a supplemental report issued Nov. 15 by the Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Advisory Commission. The commission is commonly referred to as the Hanson Commission after its chairman, Jon Hanson.

The report states that neither the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park in Oceanport, nor New Jersey taxpayers have the wherewithal to support two money-losing racetrack operations. The report projects that Monmouth Park will lose about $6.6 million and the Meadowlands Racetrack will lose $11 million this year.

The report recommends that regulatory and legislative initiatives be implemented to consolidate all live racing at Monmouth Park and to sell the state’s racetrack property for operation by the private sector. The commission has recommended that the state immediately prepare for the sale of Monmouth Park and its Off-Track Wagering (OTW) license, as well as the Woodbridge OTW and other OTW licenses. The report endorses establishing a full-scale OTW facility at the Meadowlands and recommends legislation authorizing exchange wagering, single pool wagering, and instant racing.

“This plan allows for both breeds of racing (standardbred and thoroughbred) to continue, while allowing the state to pursue the maximum return from the value of public assets including Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands,” the report states.

In April, Hanson confirmed that the commission received a proposal from Global Enterprises Meadowlands, of West Harrison, N.Y., to start running the Meadowlands Racetrack in 2011 and install slot machine-style video lottery terminals there in exchange for $600 million in payments to the state government.

The commission’s latest report, signed by Hanson, Debra DiLorenzo, Robert Holmes, Wes Lang, Al Leiter and Robert E. Mulcahy III, recommends the consolidation of all live NJSEA racing operations at Monmouth Park beginning in 2011, but keeping harness racing’s premier event, the Hambletonian, at the Meadowlands by staging a six-day standardbred meet there in August. No members of the horse racing or breeding industry served on the Hanson committee.

The report also suggests that harness horses race a 30-day meet at Monmouth Park in the fall of 2011 and a 70-day meet in subsequent years. The plan suggests thoroughbreds race a 59-day live meet at Monmouth Park from May to September, which would duplicate what has been deemed a successful schedule this year.

The report notes that Monmouth Park would need an investment of about $4.6 million to prepare for standardbred racing, which requires lights, track changes, a receiving barn and the winterization of a portion of the grandstand.

Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey President Tom Luchento issued a statement in response to the new recommendations.

“While New Jersey is trying to entice industries and jobs with expensive tax incentives, the state is in jeopardy of losing one of its most important employers — horse racing,” Luchento said.

Luchento said horse racing in New Jersey is a billion-dollar industry that represents more than 15,000 jobs and thousands of dollars in taxes annually. He said keeping horse racing at the Meadowlands and adding other types of gambling at the Meadowlands could generate $1 billion annually to the state.

Luchento pointed out that Hanson is a real estate developer. He said developing the Meadowlands property seems to be Hanson’s only concern. Hanson, 73, is founder and chairman of the Hampshire Real Estate Cos., Morristown.

“The plan he issued in July did not pass muster with the legislators and the public,” Luchento said. “The people of New Jersey support racing and gaming. Instead of finding ways to cut us out, the state should be making it more attractive for us to stay.”

Some of New Jersey’s breeding farm owners are already planning to move their stallions to states that have purse money fueled by slots, according to Luchento, who said the idea that harness horses should race 30 days at Monmouth Park is unacceptable.

“We raced 141 days this year,” he said. “You cannot expect our drivers, trainers and breeding industry to survive on 30 days of racing. You cannot ask us to give up the Meadowlands, the premier harness track in North America.”

SBOANJ and horse enthusiasts from around the state have been working with legislators to put together a package of bills that would make horse racing self-supporting by 2013, according to the SBOANJ.

“The Hanson Report ignores these plans and disregards the efforts of the senators and Assembly members,” Luchento said.