First day of sports betting at the Meadowlands on Saturday, July 14, 2018. Michael Karas, NorthJersey
The New Jersey Assembly approved a taxpayer-funded $100 million purse subsidy for the state’s horse racing industry Thursday, sending the measure to Gov. Phil Murphy for his consideration.
The vote was 68-6-1. The Senate gave its approval in December. The legislation has the support of Murphy and he’s expected to sign it into law.
The plan is to provide $20 million annually to the industry over a five-year period to boost purses at the state’s three racetracks, as well as aid the standardbred industry’s breeding program. Monmouth Park, the state’s only thoroughbred track, would receive $10 million for overnight purses, with the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway, both standardbred tracks, getting $6 million and $1.6 million, respectively. The remaining $2.4 million would go toward standardbred sire stakes and breeding programs.
The subsidies replace a portion of the $30 million annual subsidy the industry used to receive from Atlantic City casinos, in exchange for racetracks not pursuing slot machines. That subsidy was eliminated by then-Gov. Chris Christie when he privatized the state-owned racetracks in 2011.
Industry advocates say the subsidy will help the state’s horse racing industry compete with tracks in neighboring states, which receive money for casino gaming for purses and operations.
“As we struggle to figure out how to make things better in this state, this industry and its ripple effect to farms and everything that supports this industry has been starved over the previous eight years prior to this new administration coming into place,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, the bill’s primary sponsor, on Monday. “We are playing catchup as we have watched our neighboring states steal a lot of the benefits this industry brings. Things that many in this state hold deal as evidenced by public referendums on farmland preservation, for example.
“The success of the horse racing industry automatically means farmland preservation. This investment, which will be measured against its success as to whether it continues,” said the Gloucester County Democrat.
An amendment was added by an Assembly committee to provide increased oversight. Tracks are required to produce an economic report each year that shows the subsidies are having the anticipated impact in wagering, attendance and field size.
“Without it there would be no horse racing in New Jersey,” said Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural on Thursday, shortly before the final vote. “The problem we have is very simple. The state of Pennsylvania gives $250 million to the Pennsylvania racetracks from slot machines to subsidize their purses, and the state of New York gives $200 million. So the purses at the Meadowlands are half of what they are at the two Pennsylvania tracks and Yonkers. Where would you race?
“I think it’s a terrific deal for the taxpayers of New Jersey. The revenues that the sport generates are far greater than the $20 million and the money is mainly going to people who own horses in New Jersey. And we employ a lot of people at the racetrack and would be out of a job because we’re drowning.”
Earlier this year, the state’s racing industry received a fiscal boost with the legalization of sports betting on June 14, with sports books now open at racetracks and casinos in the state. According to numbers from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, sports betting has produced gross revenues of $31.2 million at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park through the end of December.
The legislation is not without its critics, who feel the industry must be able to stand on its own.
Erica Jedynak, state director of Americans for Prosperity-NJ, told NJ Spotlight that the subsidy is “an insult to the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
“Where’s the bailout for the average resident paying property taxes? If it was a successful industry, it would prosper without the dollars of hardworking New Jerseyans,” Jedynak said.
Stephen Edelson: [email protected]