By Neil Schulman
Oceanport — The commission whose recommendations have resulted in major changes to New Jersey racetracks in the last two years will advise the state for at least 12 more months.
On July 1, Governor Chris Christie signed an executive order to keep the New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment Advisory Commission — commonly referred to as the Hanson Commission after its chairman Jon Hanson — around until at least June 30, 2012.
While Hanson will remain on the commission, reportedly several other members may be changed.
While part of the commission’s work has focused on revitalizing Atlantic City and professional sporting arenas in the state, they have also made numerous recommendations about the racing industry — suggestions that local politicians often strongly disagree with.
Many officials are especially upset the commission has rejected the idea of slot machines being installed in the Meadowlands or Monmouth Park Racetrack, tracks which are owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
The commission has said that race tracks are not profitable for the state. In July 2010, the commission’s report noted that Monmouth Park’s new format, with only 50 days of racing in the summer but much higher daily purses, seemed promising, saying it could “lead to a better future for thoroughbred racing in this State and throughout the country.”
But in November 2010, the commission issued another report saying that the two tracks were still losing money. That report recommended the sale of the tracks. Locals criticized the recommendations. At the time, Senator Jennifer Beck called them “unworkable for 2011 and unacceptable as a solution.”
This year, New Jersey officials decided to attempt to try making racing sustainable without state support. Purse subsidies from New Jersey have been eliminated, and the NJSEA no longer manages either track, even if they are still the owner.
Agreements have been made to lease both tracks. Businessman Morris Bailey took over the management of Monmouth Park in June, a few weeks after the racing season had started.
The Oceanport Task Force, a group of local politicians, residents, horse groups, and horse experts, has said they welcome Bailey.
But they have also, for years, been calling for Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs, a sort of slot machine) to be installed at the Meadowlands. A portion of the profits from the VLTs would be used to supplement purses, attracting a higher caliber of horses and therefore more interest from horse fans.
The commission has been opposed to this, saying that this could hurt Atlantic City, and one of their major goals is to revitalize the state’s casinos.
Atlantic City has been so opposed that several years ago, when Monmouth Park wanted to install wheels of chance and other games often seen on boardwalks, the casinos objected, threatening to cut off the purse supplement they were providing at the time.
Proponents say that in recent years, all neighboring states have approved “racinos,” tracks which allow VLTs or other games of chance. These have improved racing revenue in those states, and are already attracting gamblers who used to go to Atlantic City.
One study, performed by New Jersey in 2007, indicated that VLTs in the Meadowlands would have little or no impact on Atlantic City revenue, but would still attract visitors from nearby New York City.
The focus on Atlantic City has not yet paid off, either. Reports this month show its casinos are continuing to decline. The state reports that gambling revenue was down nearly 4 percent in June.
Oceanport Councilman Joseph Irace pointed out the July issue of the Thoroughbred Daily News ran an article on how VLTs will benefit the New York racing industry. Next year, the New York Racing Association will be able to increase its purses by 40 percent next year, and that will rise more in 2013 and 2014.
“It might not just signal a change for New York, but for the way the entire industry does business,” the magazine noted.
“Once again, why is New Jersey missing the boat?” Irace asked.