The first of three public meetings to develop a sustainable plan for the co-existence of horse racing and casino interests in New Jersey was held on Friday morning (August 6) in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The meetings are a follow up to a report issued July 21 by a committee headed by Jon Hanson, which called for racing to be totally self sustainable and advocated either a $1/year lease of the Meadowlands to horseman or relocation to some other site in the state.
A strong contingent of about 150 racing participants, largely from harness racing, were in attendance, along with USTA directors and Hambletonian Society directors. The meeting was convened by State Senator Jim Whelen, who represents the Atlantic City area, but assured the crowd of about 350 that, "This is not about horse racing or casinos, it's about jobs."
Opening remarks came from the state legislators who have been charged with formulating a plan to advance the interests of horse racing and casinos in the state and present any accompanying legislation for debate and vote.
Legislators were able to question panelists, largely representing the casino industry, about issues of concern to both racing and casinos. Both legislators and casino executives were critical of the subsidy paid by casinos to racing in exchange for not seeking slots wagering at tracks.
"Our income should be here," said Whelen to an assembled group of television reporters. The casinos are seeking assistance in ramped up marketing assistance from the state, along with increased police presence and beautification of the city. "We need to bring sports wagering here and produce more revenue. This place is the goose that laid the golden egg for this region but she's sick and we need to prop it up."
Trump executive Mark Juliano, noted the need to keep competition for Atlantic City casinos out of the state.
"I don't see why the state would want to add competition within New Jersey. We can't do anything about the competition outside the state, but within our own state, until Atlantic City gets the number of rooms we need and the amentities we need, I don't see why the state would add competition that they would control."
Senator Paul Sarlo, who represents the region around the Meadowlands, was pointed in his remarks to Juliano, particularly regarding the presence of a casino run by Harrah's in Chester, Pennsylvania.
"We have to invest in our state, keep money here in New Jersey. Am I missing something here?"
Sarlo noted the disconnect between casino executives being dead set against slots at the Meadowlands, though one major casino company, Harrah's, "is just about 35-40 minutes away, in Chester, Pennsylvania," he noted. "I live near the Meadowlands and it takes me three hours to get down here. How can you be concerned about that competition?"
Racing supporters cheered Sarlo's remarks and were scolded twice by Whelen, who noted that he could fill several rows of seats with construction workers with a phone call if this meeting was going to be about who could make the most noise.
Juliano replied that while he could not control what another company chooses to do with their money, the presence of other casino wagering in the state would deter investors to continue building in Atantic City.
Several trainers and drivers with horses in Saturday's Hambletonian took time away from preparing their charges to attend, including Julie Miller, Jonas Czernyson, Mike Lachance, Chuck Sylvester and John Campbell.
"We're trying to see if we can survive with the racing," said Czernyson. "Sure, we have a horse in the Hambo tomorrow, but we don't know if there is going to be a Hambo next year or where it's going to be. We're here to show our support and try to make Jersey survive. So far everything has been about Atlantic City. They can't keep sweeping us under the rug."
Breeders were also in attendance including Anthony Perretti of Perretti Farms.
"We're here to save the Meadowlands and to get harness racing's point of view to those on the gaming summit," he said. "It is the most important fight for our farm and all the other Standardbred farms in the state. Without the Meadowlands we won't be able to survive. We won't be able to standand and other top sires. We will be out of business and be forced to leave the state."
The next meeting will be held at the Meadowlands in September and will focus more substantively on racing's issues.
by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications
Courtesy of the US Trotting Association Web Newsroom