By Chris Rotolo |
OCEANPORT – Not even Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah charging down the home stretch to a victory at the William Hill Haskell Invitational could lift Monmouth Park out of its financial rut back in 2015.
The historic Supreme Court victory by Dennis Drazin – chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, which operates Monmouth Park for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association– that brought sports wagering to the Oceanport locale was certainly a shot in the arm, generating approximately $3.14 million since launching in June, but keeping the track operational and prosperous on that gross revenue alone was deemed a tall order.
However, a bill due to be introduced by state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Assemblyman John Burzichelli could save New Jersey’s horse racing and preserve the future of the industry at Monmouth Park.
If adopted, the bill will appropriate $20 million from the state’s General Fund and earmark it for the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC), which will then divide the sum evenly as horse racing purse subsidies for the thoroughbred and standardbred industries.
“I talked about this when I was running for Senate last year, but in my first six months I had to focus on sports betting. Now that that’s done, this is the next piece of the puzzle,” Gopal said in an Aug. 31 interview with The Two River Times.
“It’s time for us to step up and undo something that was done by Chris Christie,” Gopal said, referencing former Gov. Christie’s July 2011 decision to veto a move by the NJRC to allocate $15 million in state subsidies to bolster horse racing purses.
Gopal is confident the subsidies Christie once called “haphazard” could save the Garden State’s racing industry and its 13,000 jobs.
“This isn’t new. This is something that has existed before and exists currently in surrounding states like New York and Pennsylvania,” Gopal said. “New Jersey horse racing has been in the backseat over the last few years, but no longer. Outside of the great culture of this industry, it’s also very important to the economy and important for the good paying union jobs it provides.”
Oceanport Council President Joseph A. Irace said Christie’s decision put New Jersey’s horse racing industry at a competitive disadvantage to all other states surrounding New Jersey, which all have some form of gaming revenue through slot machines or fully functional casinos.
According to Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural, New York provides its horse racing industry $200 million in purse subsidies, while Pennsylvania ups the ante to $250 million.
To offset declining purses, Monmouth Park was forced to reduce race dates from 71 in 2016 to 56 in 2017 and in 2018 cut its racing days to just four per week in August.
“If this bill passes it would get us back on some sort of even playing field,” said Irace, who is part owner with fellow borough council member Robert Proto of We B Jammin, a horse trained by Jorge Novarro that has earned $52,100 in seven starts and four first place finishes in 2018.
“Everybody thinks that sports betting is the panacea that is going to save horse racing and nothing else is needed, but that’s not true,” Irace added. “Sports betting is a big part and it’s a great help, but this gets you back on a competitive playing field.”
Since the bill was announced, Irace has spoken to state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) and assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-13), who he said are both in support of Gopal’s efforts, and this bipartisan support makes the Oceanport Council president hopeful for what he calls the “indirect impact.”
“I know I speak specifically to horse racing, but we always talk about the indirect impact and economic impact,” Irace said. “Not only is there the 13,000 jobs this industry creates, but there’s the open space it creates, it’s about the farmland this industry helps preserve. It’s not just horse racing that will benefit.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 6 – 13, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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