March 15, 2016
Tom LaMarra, Blood-Horse

Revenue for horse racing is included in a casino-expansion referendum that will be put before New Jersey voters in November.

The state Senate and Assembly March 14 both passed the measure, which was filed with the Secretary of State. It calls for two new casinos in northern New Jersey; neither can be located within a 72-mile radius of Atlantic City, which has held a monopoly on casino gambling in New Jersey since the mid-1970s under another constitutional amendment.

Meadowlands, the harness track that offers a limited Thoroughbred turf meet in late summer and early fall, is the front-runner for one of the two casinos should the referendum pass. The state’s two other tracks—Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway, both in central New Jersey—aren’t in the running given the geographical restriction.

The legislation for the ballot question doesn’t set a tax rate, though it’s expected to be much higher than the 8% Atlantic City casinos have paid since their inception. Jeff Gural, who has operated Meadowlands under a lease arrangement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, has repeatedly said he would be willing to pay a state tax rate of 55%.

A portion of the revenue regardless of the tax rate would go to stabilize Atlantic City, which has lost business to neighboring states that have added casinos in the past two decades, among them Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.

As for horse racing, the bill states that the legislature “shall by law provide not less than 2 percentage points (of revenue) in each fiscal year” would go to aid Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen in New Jersey. It is expected the racing industry will lobby for the amount to be above the minimum.

New Jersey racing, under a deal with Atlantic City casinos, used to receive about $30 million a year for purses in exchange for not pursuing legislation to authorize racetrack gaming.