End Of An Era: NJ Horsemen Now Have Political Friends In High Places


It was no surprise that Governor Phil Murphy late last week signed into law the $20 million horse racing purse subsidy bill, given his previous indication of support for it to legislative leaders.

But horsemen can be further heartened by Murphy’s statements in a press release issued in conjunction with the announcement.

“New Jersey’s horse racing industry is a key economic engine, supporting thousands of jobs and attracting tourists and fans from around the world,” Murphy said. “Our state has a long and proud history of horse racing and we must recapture our competitive edge in the industry. With this funding, New Jersey can continue to offer one of the most exciting horse racing experiences in the nation, while also providing a boost to an industry that is integral to our economy.”

Subsidy doesn’t renew automatically

The support of Murphy and other officials is important because the $20 mm subsidy will be up for review by the Legislature annually.

That’s because it is a budget appropriation, and also because Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, specifically amended an earlier bill to require the standardbred and thoroughbred industries in the state to show proof each year that the taxpayer funds resulted in direct benefit to the overall equine industry.

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It appears that Murphy and many legislators are confident those results will be forthcoming.

On the thoroughbred side, $10 mm goes to overnight purses at Monmouth Park. The Meadowlands Racetrack will get $6 mm for the same on the standardbred side, and Freehold Raceway gets $1.6 mm. Another $1.2 mm will go to New Jersey Sire Stakes purses, and the last $1.2 mm gets split equally between purse bonuses for New Jersey-sired horses and for breeders award purses.

Bipartisan support

While Murphy is a Democrat, the horsemen have gotten plenty of support from Republicans as well.

“New Jersey’s horse racing industry has created tens of thousands of in-state jobs and has led to the preservation of more than 175,000 acres of farmland and open space,” said state Sen. Steven Oroho, a Republican from rural Sussex County in the northwestern region of the state. “The entire Garden State will benefit from the economic activity and revenue generated as a result of this bipartisan effort. I look forward to watching New Jersey horse racing regain its premier status in the industry.”

A key sponsor was Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a Democrat from Gloucester County in southern New Jersey. He referenced the eight-year cold war between previous Governor Chris Christie and the horsemen.

“I’d like to thank Governor Murphy for recognizing the critical importance of the horse racing industry in New Jersey, particularly because the industry was ignored during the previous administration, putting it on the brink of extinction,” Burzichelli said. “The subsidies provided by this new law will pay huge dividends in terms of horse farm preservation and the job creation and retention related to horse racing. I have no doubt this effort will help spur our economy.”

(We checked in with ex-Governor Christie at a gaming industry event in New Orleans last month to see if he had changed his mind.)

‘A new hope’

Mike Gulotta, the treasurer of the state Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association, foresees a renaissance for horse racing in the state.

“This legislation represents a new frontier, a new hope for both standardbred and thoroughbred horsemen and many affiliated industries in New Jersey,” Gulotta said. “For the last 10 years New Jersey has fallen behind New York, Pennsylvania, and others due to the uncompetitive environment in which we found ourselves. This legislation will create jobs and renew interest and investment in New Jersey, specifically in farm lands. It will prove to be a great investment by the state.”

Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazin said that “this effort to help racing and breeding in New Jersey has always been a high priority for Governor Murphy.”

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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