New Jersey Horse Racing Purse Subsidy Bill Clears Bar In Legislature

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A badly needed purse subsidy for the New Jersey horse racing industry is just one signature away from becoming law.

The state Assembly voted on Thursday to approve the bill, 68-4-1, and soon after, it passed a Senate vote to approve modest amendments to its version of the bill.

Once Gov. Phil Murphy signs the bill within the next 45 days — and there are no indications that he will hesitate — a $20 million subsidy will be provided for the calendar year.

The future is not guaranteed

The bill had cleared an Assembly committee three days earlier, though there were a couple of potential complications.

An amendment to the bill puts the horsemen on notice: The five-year, $100 million deal proposed last year now is more thoroughly reviewed each year. That is the horsemen must show, at this time next year, tangible evidence that the purse money has boosted the fortunes of the industry. If not, the second $20 million may be reduced or even rejected.

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A variety of delays, as well as debate on an earlier minimum-wage bill and numerous votes, left horse racing industry advocates waiting for their bill more than 2½ hours past the scheduled 1 p.m. starting time for the Assembly session.

The bill came up at a time when most bills were being approved without any discussion — and this bill was no exception.

Harness racing group rejoices

“We are grateful for the commitment to our industry demonstrated by Senators Gopal, Sarlo, Oroho and Assembly members Burzichelli, Houghtaling, Downey, and Dancer by ushering this bill through the Legislature,” said Mark Ford, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. “Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin took the time to understand the dire position our industry is in and made this a priority.

“This will help start to even the playing field for the New Jersey horse racing industry and help us to compete with the surrounding states which have very lucrative incentive programs. The industry and horse farms not only aid and protect the preservation of open space in New Jersey, they support the entire agribusiness in the state.

After the bill had previously passed the Senate by a vote of 40-0, there had been a delay in the Assembly as some concerns had to be ironed out.

Recent subsidy history

The Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park were privatized almost a decade ago when then-Governor Chris Christie decided it was time for the state to stop subsiding the industry.

Massive subsidies from slot machine revenues at New York and Pennsylvania racinos has led to bigger purses, deeper fields, and more race dates in those states. This supplement, and added revenue from sports betting, gives New Jersey horsemen some hope of regaining momentum.

Four weeks ago, with this reversal pending, I asked Christie about this topic at a gaming conference in New Orleans following his luncheon speech. As usual, Christie was quite vocal on the topic.

Meanwhile, Meadowlands track owner Jeff Gural had to be relieved. He had told us last week that his track was “screwed” if this bill didn’t pass quickly.

Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin told NJ Online Gambling today, “This certainly will help the industry become more competitive in the region.”

Photo by Hakan Tanak / 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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