Meadowlands Racetrack Posts Big Betting Boost in 2019, Justifying Purse Subsidy

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When New Jersey lawmakers last year approved a $20 million annual subsidy to the state’s horse racing industry, it came with a caveat.

The horsemen could apply for a continuation of the subsidy for each year through 2023 as well, but a yearly review would be conducted to determine if the taxpayer dollars were paying off in improved results.

Well, the proof seems to be in the pudding. This week the Meadowlands Racetrack — which received $6 million for purses out of the $20 million subsidy — announced a 26% increase in the amount wagered on the track’s exported signal. In other words, bettors around the country took note of increased purses, deeper fields, more races, and better horses coming to the East Rutherford site.

“This is exactly what we had hoped for, and clearly the subsidy is working as intended,” Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural told NJ Online Gambling.

The exported signal tally reached $217 million over 90 dates in 2019, for an average of $2.4 million per card. In 2018, $172.4 million was wagered this way over 86 dates — for $2 million per card.

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There were other, more modest, boosts as well. The 2019 handle on the amount bet at the Meadowlands on live races there was $17.6 million, a 7% rise from a year earlier. The handle-per-race figure was up 6%, to $186,000.

Field size was up from 8.43 per race in 2018 to 8.8 horses per race in 2019. The number of races also climbed by 15%, to nearly 13 per card.

The lone Meadowlands decline

But while bettors around the state and country flocked to wager on Meadowlands races, the betting at the Meadowlands on outside races declined by 9% to $127.6 million.

“The import decline is largely a result of bettor convenience,” a track spokesman said in a statement. “Each passing year, a larger percentage of the simulcast wagering is drawn to various Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) platforms and other remote options, rather than traveling to the Meadowlands to bet on the races.”

The revival at the Meadowlands is evident in the 2020 schedule, which includes two additional dates as well as a full year-round schedule at the track.

The harness racing dates will be every Friday and Saturday not only until the Aug. 8 Hambletonian — usually the kickoff to a multi-week break — but now through Sept. 19. There also will be Thursday racing on July 16 and Aug. 6.

While harness racing goes dark from late September until just after Thanksgiving, the plan is for the state’s thoroughbred races to move north from Monmouth Park from the start of October through Nov. 21. Those races also will be on Fridays and Saturdays, except for Monday, Oct. 12 — Columbus Day — replacing the Saturday card that week.

The harness racing action adds Thursday nights to its lineup to close out the year in December.

Monmouth Park also saw 2019 boost

The 60-day summer (and early fall) meet at Monmouth Park followed a similar path, as wagering from outside sources jumped 19% to $184.6 million, but in-house wagering on Monmouth Park races climbed only 0.1% t0 $21 million.

The 80,000-person jump in total attendance to 545,000 might have reached six figures if the heat on Haskell Day, the track’s biggest day of the year, hadn’t led to a cancellation of six races and a two-decade low attendance of 25,000.

“The positive overall numbers reflect the high quality of the product we were able to offer, thanks in large part to the purse supplement from the state of New Jersey,” said Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin. “To be able to show gains across the board without the benefit of a typical Haskell Day is significant, and a sign that the quality of racing was consistently at a high level throughout the meet.

“This was also the first year of the purse subsidy and the first full year of sports betting, which were instrumental in this year’s success,” Drazin added. “The state subsidy was a key factor in being able to add more live racing dates to our schedule.

“We’re optimistic about the future, not only for racing at Monmouth Park in general but specifically for the breeding sector in the state. We’re already starting to see that trend tick upward.”

The state’s other racetrack is Freehold Raceway, the oldest U.S. racetrack, having held races since the 1830s.

Freehold had a modest uptick of 2.3% per day from outside bettors gambling on their races, a track official told NJ Online Gambling.

The average daily live handle, meanwhile, was unchanged for the 75 racing dates in 2019 (down from 85 dates the previous year). The Freehold annual purse subsidy was more modest than the other tracks, at $1.6 million.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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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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