Meadowlands: To Post Or Not To Post

Wenditions won in the 4th at the Meadowlands Friday night and the winners were happy.  Others were not so fortunate, but it was a clear, comfortable, cool evening. Even for those who did not wager, just admiring the horses, sensing the excitement of each race, enjoying the beauty of the track, and socializing over a meal with friends made for a pleasant time – and all of this with no parking fee and an admission price of $1.00. Attendance was about 4,000, but it’s a large facility which can accommodate over 30,000 for major race days. Channel 12 was there providing added coverage. Periodically the loudspeaker blared forth the request for people to support this endangered racetrack. Alas, its days and those of its industry may be numbered in NJ.

Christie’s Advisory Commission focused attention on our $1.1 billion-a-year horse racing industry, increasing the split in the legislature between different NJ areas, those who favor more gambling and those who do not, and those who argue we can not afford to subsidize horse racing vs. those who say this is no time to subtract jobs from our economy. The commission’s recommendations included a short boutique summer meet at Monmouth Racetrack, but an end to most racing subsidies. It recommended leasing the Meadowlands Racetrack for $1 a year for three years with the tenant assuming all expenses, and with no conviction that success would follow.

The Democratic legislators’ Gaming Summit in Atlantic City on August 6 opened with a bugler sounding the traditional “call to post” in support of NJ horse racing. Nonetheless, there was little unanimity. Christie’s commission report had supported a major effort to resuscitate Atlantic City gaming. However, it concluded that the racing industry model in NJ was economically unsustainable and it argued against placing VLT’s in the Meadowlands. Sen. Paul Sarlo (36th) said the report “puts us in the position of playing favorites, one region at the expense of another.” He got into a heated debate with a casino CEO who felt that authorizing slot machines, VLTs or table games elsewhere in the state would be a disaster for the Atlantic City casino industry.

I personally feel that the state should not foster increased gambling activities (a self-cannabalizing business with significant adverse effects on frequent wagerers), and I recognize that the subsidized racing industry is financially troubled. Nonetheless, I hope a broader review of the options will open a way to keep the track operating. Now is no time to contemplate more job reductions. A vibrant racetrack can add to the appeal of the larger Meadowlands/Xandu complex. It helps sustain farmers, businesses, hunting clubs and others who enjoy the open space and the farms which the horse-related business create.  Christie likes to stick to his guns, and the legislators are in conflict, but there should be a way to balance the varying interests. I would wager that support for helping Atlantic City will require support for helping the Meadowlands, but I have no idea what the odds should be or the likely outcome.

What do you think will or should happen?

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