The third and final session of the New Jersey Gaming Summit was held Wednesday (September 29) at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. About 200 people were in attendance for the meeting, which followed two earlier meetings held in Atlantic City and also at the Meadowlands.
The summit is a response to a report commissioned by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and authored by Jon Hanson, which called for an end of the agreement between New Jersey casinos and racetracks for a purse contribution from casinos in exchange for not seeking slots at the tracks.
The report further called for privatization or $1/year leases to both tracks (Meadowlands and Monmouth Park) to extract the state from any financial responsibility in running the tracks.
The summit was formed as a means to collect information from stakeholders in the racing industry for the purposes of proposing alternate means, through legislation or referenda.
Nearly two hours of testimony was taken at the start of the day from Hanson, appearing for the first time in the third of three sessions of the summit and defending the assertions of his committee's report.
"We're in favor of horse racing," said Hanson. "We're just not in favor of the taxpayer subsidizing horse racing. One of the things we're looking at for 2011 is about a $45 million hole. The Sports Authority and the horsemen have to find a solution that doesn't mean the state of New Jersey's going to write a check for $45 million.
"As far as OTWs are concerned, we've had some success in Woodbridge (an off-track facility operated by the Meadowlands). On the OTW, here is what our question was -- no one sitting here today can tell us what the success will be of OTWs in 10 years....The government should not be speculating with taxpayers' money. No fuzzy math. It's time to go back to the private sector and let them take the risk."
Hanson was extensively questioned by a number of state legislators, including Senator Paul Sarlo, who identified himself as being in favor of a "high-end, world-class casino at the Meadowlands." Sarlo pressed Hanson on whether his report ruled out future gaming at the Meadowlands.
"Our report said at the present time I believe, we were not considering casinos," responded Hanson.
Sarlo pressed for a yes or no answer, "So you're not ruling it out?" he replied. Hanson responded that, "Our report is what our report says."
Sarlo returned with, "So in my opinion, that means today, 2010, now, in 2011 there exists the opportunity. Am I correct in that? Are you going to stick by that -- at the present time?"
"That's what we wrote," said Hanson.
"I interpret that as today, perhaps not tomorrow," concluded Sarlo.
Sarlo questioned Hanson as to what his position would be were Atlantic City to get concessions and funds to more heavily promote the state and increase security and "we're still getting our butts kicked by neighboring states on convenience gaming, would your commission then revisit gaming at the Meadowlands?" asked Sarlo.
"You mean I've got to continue to do this for three or four years?" asked Hanson to laughter.
"I think at the present time, I think you should look at what we're saying as far as Atlantic City," Hanson said. "We do not control the $30 million the casinos agreed to give, it's their money. We have recommended a change in the regulations as for what it costs to regulate in Atlantic City and the casinos have pledged that any savings would go in for the public-private partnership or private-public partnership. There is no state money being advocated by our committee to go there. What we are advocating is a leadership role from the state to aid both the city (Atlantic City) as well as the major industries and make it a better place and a safer place to be."
Assemblywoman Connie Wagner asked Hanson to supply specific names of those in equine-related industries that were interviewed by his committee. Hanson could provide no specific names and Wagner asked for, "Out of those 200 people you talked to, if you could give me names, if there was a farmer, if there was a breeder that was interviewed, could you give me that information?" asked Wagner.
Hanson replied that he would ask Robert Mulcahy, former CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and a member of Hanson's committee, to provide the information on the people with whom he spoke.
"There seems to be another part of the state, and in my mind that's the central part of the state and I went to visit that part of the state," noted Wagner of her trip to Perretti Farms on Monday, September 27. "I went to visit the horse farms and I happened to get lost...for 45 minutes. I went from farm to farm and what I learned from that was that if the Meadowlands does not succeed, it's going to have a domino effect that won't be pretty. I'll have farms going down, veterinarians losing their jobs, farmers losing their jobs, all the other areas that depend upon them for success.
"This is a beautiful part of our state -- was that ever considered?" she asked Hanson.
"As I said before we're not opposed to acing," noted Hanson. "Our position is that the state of New Jersey, through the Sports Authority, has expended $250 million and it's out of money and so our recommendation is that it should not be the role of the state to subsidize it but working with the public sector to help the horse racing industry. I think perhaps we are catalysts and I would hope the horsemen and track operators find a solution."
Wagner pointed out the vast competition in the last 10 years from racinos outside the borders of New Jersey.
"This map says it all," she noted. "We are losing valuable economic resources."
Wagner asked Hanson if his committee would revisit the issue of slots at the Meadowlands. "If we don't change and this is a battlefield, we're losing," she said.
"We are advocates of enhancing the gaming that is part of the law today," said Hanson. "We're supportive of racing, we just don't think it's the role of the state to subsidize it."
Hanson's testimony was followed by more than 10 additional speakers including Anthony Perretti of Perretti Farms, Tom Luchento of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, Mike Gulotta of Deo Volente Farm, driver John Campbell and veterinarian Dr. Scott Palmer.
by Ellen HARVEY, Harness Racing Communications