When a bill in the New Jersey legislature to subsidize the state’s horse racing industry was proposed in 2018 and ultimately signed into law in early 2019, it included a compromise. The state would provide $20 million annually to the thoroughbred and standardbred industries — but with a caveat.
“The recipient of any funds appropriated or allocated pursuant to this act, as a condition of receiving any such funds in the subsequent fiscal year thereafter, shall file an annual report with the Governor, the Legislature, and the New Jersey Racing Commission that documents the purposes for which those funds were used and the amounts allocated for those purposes,” the bill read.
“Each annual report shall include, but not be limited to, the following information: impact on the handle/total amount bet; impact on the total number of horses in the races; impact on the number of New Jersey bred horses in the races; impact on the number of New Jersey bred horses winning races; number of brood mares in New Jersey; number of New Jersey bred foals born; and any impact on the New Jersey Sire Stakes program.
“Each annual report shall also include a comparison for each fiscal year during which funds are received with each of the five years immediately preceding the first year in which funds are received of the number of races held each year, the number of horses in each race, the number of bets placed on horse races, the number of horses aged four years or younger stabled for a majority of the year in New Jersey, and gate attendance and revenue at each racetrack.
“The Legislature may choose not to appropriate the amounts provided … if it determines, based on a review of the reports filed pursuant to this section, that receipt of these funds has not substantially improved the racing industry in New Jersey.”
What Madness is this?
That language is what makes months like March at the Meadowlands Racetrack so important.
A total of $24.3 million was wagered on the eight weekend-night cards, good for a nightly average of just over $3 million. The average amount bet per race, meanwhile, was $234,000.
“I am happy to report that business was very solid in March — which is very encouraging considering how popular the NCAA Tournament has become,” Meadowlands Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Jason Settlemoir said in a statement. “Even though the NCAA games played deep into the night on Fridays and Saturdays, The Meadowlands showed solid handle increases across the board. The average March handle of over $3 million a night continues our successful path since Gov. [Phil] Murphy and the state legislature passed the horse racing bill in 2018.”
Settlemoir noted that per-card handle figures for March 2017 checked in at a more modest $2.3 million. The subsequent March figures were $2.6 million, $2.9 million, $2.7 million, and then $2.9 million last year.
The 2022 figures were a challenge in the sense that there were far more entertainment options available as COVID-19 restrictions greatly diminish, including full-scale operations at Atlantic City casinos and those casinos closer to many North Jerseyans in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Meadowlands subsidy share
The 2018-19 law divided the $20 million subsidy equally between the two New Jersey racing sub-industries.
On the standardbred side, $6 million of the $10 million goes to Meadowlands racing purses, $1.6 million to Freehold Raceway purses, $1.2 million to New Jersey Sire Stakes purses, $600,000 to purse bonuses for New Jersey-sired horses, and $600,000 for breeders awards purses.
State lawmakers have renewed the subsidy each year, although the total was trimmed by 25% last fall in the wake of challenging financial times for the state. The solid returns at the Meadowlands — another $3 million-plus was wagered on the April 1 and April 2 cards as well — make it likely that the next subsidy returns to its full $20 million share.
Another deal reached in 2018 between Meadowlands track operator Jeff Gural and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey puts a guaranteed additional $1 million toward purses for each of the next 10 years.
That new money comes from the pot of gold from sports wagering at the FanDuel Sportsbook at the Big M that began flowing after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 voided a 26-year-old federal law that effectively gave Nevada a monopoly on Las Vegas-style sports betting.
Gural receives the first $6 million of annual net revenue from the sportsbook, while the horsemen get 25% of the rest of the revenue.
The state’s thoroughbred horsemen, who receive the other $10 million in state subsidies, also have improved their bottom line at their Monmouth Park track in Oceanport. That “summer meet” launches on May 7 — Kentucky Derby Day — and concludes on Sept. 18.
Photo courtesy of Meadowlands Racetrack