New Jersey bill lowers minimum dates for Thoroughbred racing

Posted: Feb. 14, 2017

Legislation that would alter language and permit the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which leases Monmouth Park and operates fall Thoroughbred meets at Meadowlands, to offer a minimum of 50 racing programs per year has passed the state Assembly and awaits Senate approval.

The flexibility on racing dates has become necessary given the fact New Jersey racetracks rely solely on pari-mutuel revenue for purses amid declines in wagering and competition for the gambling dollar from casinos both in and out of state.

Current law calls for a minimum of 71 days of Thoroughbred racing per year pending written consent from the New Jersey THA. The longstanding minimum of 141 dates at Monmouth and Meadowlands combined became unworkable as purse supplements from Atlantic City casinos were discontinued.

A legislative note states that the bill deletes obsolete language for expired provisions that decreased the annual minimum to 120 dates from 2004-07 provided certain economic thresholds were met.

The bill, which was approved by the Assembly on a 77-0 vote, was sent to the Senate Economic Growth Committee. It maintains minimums required for Standardbred racing: no fewer than 75 programs each at Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway upon written consent from the Standardbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association of New Jersey.

The New Jersey Racing Commission last year awarded Monmouth 56 racing dates and Meadowlands 15 turf-only programs for 2017, then recently added a one-day pari-mutuel steeplechase meet at Far Hills. Dennis Drazin, an adviser for Darby Development, which operates Monmouth on behalf of the New Jersey THA, told that horsemen would change the request to 50 programs at Monmouth and six at Meadowlands should the legislation become law.

NJRC statistics reflect the contraction of horse racing in the state. For 1999 the commission awarded 560 racing dates—168 Thoroughbred at four tracks, and 392 harness at two tracks. By 2009 the total was 476, but by 2015 it had dropped to 264.

From 1999-2015, the state lost two tracks—Garden State Park and Atlantic City Race Course. In addition, only Borgata casino in Atlantic City now offers full-card simulcasts; about 10 years ago nine casinos that offered simulcasts generated more than $115 million in pari-mutuel handle in one year.

(Meadowlands photo by Tom LaMarra)