Meadowlands Horsemen Getting Purse Boost From Sports Betting, Hoping For More

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One down, one to go for New Jersey’s harness racing industry.

The Standardbred Breeders and Owners of New Jersey on Friday announced a 10-year preliminary agreement with the Meadowlands Racetrack on a revenue-sharing plan on sports betting that adds at least $1 million annually to racing purses.

Now the horsemen hope to see a deal reached on a five-year, $100 million purse subsidy proposal in the state legislature. That would add, annually, $6 million for Meadowlands purses, $1.6 million for Freehold Raceway purses, $10 million for Monmouth Park, and $2.4 million distributed for breeder awards and stakes bonuses.

“With a bill for a five-year, $100 million purse appropriation scheduled to be introduced in the legislature shortly,” said New Meadowlands Racetrack Chairman Jeff Gural, “we are all hopeful that we will be able to continue our good work with the SBOA and bring the Meadowlands back to its stature as a premier racing venue.”

Belief in the bill

The sports betting revenue added to purses amounts to something like a 10% boost, but the real shot in the arm would be that “appropriation” (sometimes known as a “subsidy”).

Mark Ford, the SBOANJ president, told NJ Online Gambling that the “zero percent” chance he thought the bill had this summer has now turned into cautious optimism that passage of the bill is “very close.”

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So what would be the main result of more purse money — more racing dates, deeper fields, more races per card, bigger handle?

“Hopefully everything just snowballs, and we get the Meadowlands Racetrack back to where it used to be,” Ford said. “We’re picturing a resurgence.”

There are only 90 race dates scheduled at the Meadowlands in 2019, a reduction that rankled some of the horsemen last month.

New Jersey’s three racetracks suffer from not receiving a sliver of slot machine revenues, a benefit enjoyed at tracks in neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania. Meadowlands operator Gural weighed in on the challenges for the tracks again last week at the ICE sports betting summit in Manhattan.

A plug for FanDuel

One interesting wrinkle is that in the announcement, Ford notes to the horse racing bettors, “If you are betting sporting events, be sure to place your bets with FanDuel at the Meadowlands or use the FanDuel app, as a portion of every dollar you wager will show up in the purse account.”

Ford said he intends to get that message across to his industry’s biggest bettors, granting that such gamblers heavily factor in getting the best odds as well. But if, all things being equal, those bettors lean to FanDuel, it would be a perhaps unanticipated perk for a partner of a racetrack sportsbook that could be replicated elsewhere in the U.S.

Ford added that he isn’t directly in communication with FanDuel; he just recognizes what is best for the industry’s bottom line.

The impact of the purse boosts will be followed closely well beyond New Jersey borders. That’s because the Meadowlands track instantly became the premier harness racing track in North America (with plenty of legendary thoroughbreds also racing there over the years) when it opened in 1976. A near-closure of the track almost a decade ago before privatization unnerved many in the national industry, because a shuttering of the iconic track could have signaled to lawmakers in other states that the sport was no longer worth helping.

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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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