By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has written the state Attorney General asking that he “very precisely and thoroughly” review the off-track wagering application for Hillsborough.
The Attorney General is “the final arbiter” whether the OTW applicant and New Jersey Racing Commission “handled the entire application process perfectly consistent with state statute,” wrote Mr. Ciattarelli.
On Sept. 16, the N.J. Racing Commission approved the application for an off-track wagering facility in the former Maestro’s restaurant on southbound Route 206.
Approval has two more steps. One is the review of the racing commission’s minutes — and, in effect, its decision — by the governor’s office. The veto period expires Oct. 2, according to the racing commission’s executive director, Frank Zanzuccki.
Attorney General John Jay Hoffman must also approve by Oct. 6, Mr. Zanzuccki said.
The OTW applicant, Darby Development, is also clearing up another problem with opening — the validity of its liquor license. The Township Committee rescinded the license last month because it had essentially lapsed by lack of use. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission granted a special ruling on Sept. 15 to allow the license to proceed. It now rests with Hillsborough’s Township Committee to reapprove.
The assemblyman, who lives in Hillsborough, suggested several points at which the Attorney General should look. They included the release of the full OTW application after the required July 22 public hearing, and whether all meeting on the application was on the agenda were held consistent with the Open Public Meetings Act.
He also suggested the office look at application timetables, the applicants’ company structure, potential conflicts of interest, required insurances and transfers of title and ownership of liquor licenses, land and buildings.
Citizen opponents have urged the public to call or write the AG as well.
“We all live busy lives,” said OTW foe Michelle Eilbacher, a Hillsborough resident in an email. “It is important for Hillsborough residents to take a stand. Please take five minutes out of your day this week and call! We only have until Oct. 6 to let the AG know we want a say.”
She gave the Attorney General’s office phone as 609-292-4925 (at the prompt, press 0). She said people should say they are calling about the application for an off-track wagering facility in Hillsborough, and urge him to veto the approval.
Ms. Eilbacher suggested Hillsborough residents could stress that they little say in the decision, and that the required public hearing was held on a Wednesday night (July 22) in the middle of the summer, when many residents were on vacation.
She also said people could emphasize the application submitted to the racing commission was not given to residents prior to the meeting.
In 2001, the state Legislature passed the Off-Track and Account Wagering Act, which provided for licenses to build up to 15 off-track wagering facilities in the state. Between 2001 and 2010, three facilities (Woodbridge, Vineland and Toms River) opened. Others weren’t built because municipalities were rejecting them, she said, citing Mahwah, Bridgewater and Green Brook as places that turned them down.
In February 2011, the Legislature amended the law and removed the clause that said that a municipality may reject the placement of an off-track wagering facility within its boundaries.
Mr. Ciattarelli noted he was strongly opposed to the application.
“We vigorously maintain that the local land use process should not be circumvented,” he wrote. “We also vigorously maintain that OTWs belong in densely populated, urban areas desperately in need for economic development. That is not Hillsborough.”
He told the AG he realized these arguments “are moot given current law, which you are required by oath to enforce.”
Mr. Ciattarelli said he intends to continue efforts to pass legislation (A-3127) that reverses the law that eliminates a municipality’s right to have the final say on an off-track wagering business operating within its borders. The bill, co-sponsored by his district colleague, Assemblywoman Donna Simon, restores the ability of municipalities to reject a proposed off-track wagering facility, and to remove the five-year tax exemption, abatement or payment in lieu of taxes for privately operated off-track wagering facilities.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor