Monday, December 12, 2011

NJ battle over Monmouth Park heating up

In typically laughable dysfunction, New Jersey continues to make a mockery of the state's thoroughbred racing scene, with reports now that Monmouth Park is potentially five days away from extinction. reports that Governor Chris Christie, from his usual bully pulpit, more or less is calling the horsemen liars ("untrustworthy," as he put it) in portraying the reasons for why Resorts casino co-owner and racing enthusiast Morris Bailey has pulled out of a deal to privately run one of the nation's best tracks for the next five years.

As a mere fan of the game, I am not privy to insider knowledge; to be sure, mine are only opinions.  Interestingly, however, at the same time the Governor is saying the deal fell apart because "millionaire" horsemen are demanding $5 million of subsidies from NJ, he also has taken the stance that he will not "take money from waiters and waitresses and police officers and teachers, who are taxpayers in the state, to fund their industry."  This from the man who has already taken from at least 3 of those 4 aforementioned (sans police), without provocation from the racing industry mind you, and who has also thrown a quarter-billion at the moribund casino industry in Atlantic City.

If I had to guess, within the next few days we'll hear in the media from every party to the discussion - the horsemen, tellers and other employees at Monmouth Park, financial experts and others, no doubt.  However, keep in mind that there's not a lot of the usual political controversy in New Jersey this legislative "lame duck" session -- no "Governor's toolkit", no 2% budget caps, no assault on teachers' benefits or school board member background checks (NJ Horseplayer, personally, was subjected to the latter)...really no "sexy" topics that'll score points for Christie.  So, personally, I am taking the media hype with a grain of salt.

In the end, I see Christie's latest verbal assault as nothing more than rhetoric.  To shut down Monmouth Park would be utterly foolish from numerous perspectives, and would run counter to efforts of other state legislators (some of Christie's party-mates, based in and around the Monmouth Park area, to be sure) who have introduced slot gaming, sports wagering and exchange wagering in the legislature.  Remember, too, that voters exceedingly voted in favor of sports wagering, so in my view there's more behind Christie's latest antics than shutting down Monmouth Park, and he would risk alienating "the millionaire" horsemen who, coincidentally, probably voted for him.

NJ Horseplayer speculates -- true to handicapping blogging form -- that Christie trumped up this issue because the state made a bad deal, and that an outside party is going to enter the discussion at the final hour as a potential suitor, and Christie will agree to leave Monmouth open for another year, pending a changeover to a new ownership group. Whether a different Atlantic City-based casino operator (than Morris Bailey) or a publicly traded operator (i.e. Churchill Downs, Penn National) that swoops in as a new white night suitor (and angles for an eventual cut of potential slot gaming at the Meadowlands or Monmouth down the road) remains to be seen, but the Governor himself would never live down shuttering such a noteworthy establishment and more or less nailing the coffin of NJ's thoroughbred racing program.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you are right. The only thing I don't understand is the slot money issue. Gural and Bailey already had a deal that the slot revenue would be split 50-50 between Monmouth and the Meadowlands if slots were at the Meadowlands or even at Monmouth Park. This should not have been an issue.

    As for the license issue, the attorney general is correct. Tell me one state which has a racing license issued to anyone that doesn't own or lease a race track. Years ago, after harness racing bombed at ACRC, the owner of that license leased Freehold and you had two meets there ACRC @ Freehold, and Freehold. The license didn't just sit out there. If NJTHA had a firm agreement to lease ACRC or Monmouth for X number of days, I think the license could have been had, but to have a license you may use has never been done and I suspect the NJRC would not accept.