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People who earn their livelihoods working with horses in eastern Will County, Chicago, are hoping recent gaming-expansion legislation will revive the struggling harness racing industry. “It’s a good business,” said Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, a horse trainer and owner. “Obviously, it’s dwindled. Hopefully (the legislation) will turn things around. It’s going to help everything.” “Everything” involves thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to harness racing, according to an industry trade group. There are investors who own horses, men and women who breed and train the animals and drivers who man the carts known as sulkies. The trade involves veterinarians who care for animals, blacksmiths who shoe them, farmers who grow hay, occupations related to the transport of horses and entry-level jobs of mucking stables and grooming horses. Roth works out of Sawgrass Training Center near Crete, where trainers and riders take horses around a half-mile limestone track. Because of economics, there are far fewer horses bred in Illinois today than in past years. “Our breeding industry has collapsed,” Roth said. “That’s going to have to be completely rebuilt.” To put it in perspective, there were 124 standardbred horses foaled in Illinois in 2018, according to the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. During harness racing’s peak in the 1980s, there were more than 2,000 horses foaled each year in the state, the group said. Trainer Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, works with Ashlee's Fine, a 2-year-old standardbred Illinois horse she is training, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "Our breeding industry has collapsed, " she said of the decline in the number of horses bred in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) “The purses have got so low, people can’t afford to pay their training bills,” Roth said. Nelson Willis, 75, of Crete, has worked in the business for 62 years, starting as a horse groomer when he was 13 years old. “You’ve got to learn how to take care of a horse before you learn how to train one,” he said. Willis said he trains “22 or 23” horses at Sawgrass and employs five people. Previously, he said, he had a dozen people working for him when he trained 55 horses at Balmoral Park near Crete. “I’ve seen the best of times and right now it’s the worst it’s ever been in this state,” Willis said. “So many people have left here.” For years, track owners, breeders and others in the trade pleaded with legislators to allow gaming positions at racetracks. Illinois was losing out to Ohio, Indiana and other states that drew more competitors and spectators, they said. Trainer Nelson Willis, 75, of Beecher, holds onto a horse halter outside a barn on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "I've seen the best of times and right now it's the worst it's ever been in this state," Willis said of the harness racing industry in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) After years of efforts, the General Assembly recently passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure to expand gaming. The major changes allow casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs and four other areas; legalizes sports betting; permits video gaming terminals at racetracks and other large venues; and designates a new racetrack for the south suburbs. Tinley Park officials have said a developer is interested in building the racetrack on the site of the former state mental health facility northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. The historic approval happened seven years after lawmakers passed a measure to expand gaming and address losses in the horse racing industry. Former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoedthe 2012 measure. “That left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” said Roger Welch, 55, of Beecher. “That was the biggest letdown. One person with a veto single-handedly stopped Illinois horse racing in its tracks.” Welch is a fourth-generation horseman who was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. He has bred world-champion horses, such as Fox Valley Anabell, a horse owned by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The harness racing industry in Illinois has rapidly declined in the past five years, Welch said. “There’s no market to sell (horses) in Illinois,” Welch said. “I hope it’s not too late” to bring back the industry. Welch said he remembers when he was a child and visited Sportsman’s Park near Cicero. Crowds were so big, people paid for parking and admission, he said. Attendance dwindled as years passed, despite free admission and parking. Welch said he still lives in Beecher but spends the horse-racing season in Indiana, working mostly at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson, northeast of Indianapolis. Since 2016, Hawthorne Race Course on the border of Cicero and Stickney has been the Chicago area’s only track with harness racing. Hawthorne also hosts thoroughbred racing. Balmoral ended its harness-racing tradition after the 2015 season and became a show-jumping venue in 2017. Maywood Park near Melrose Park also closed in 2015. Sportsman’s Park hosted its last horse race in 2002 and was demolished in 2009. Other harness racing tracks were Washington Park Race Track in Homewood and Aurora Downs Racetrack. Fire destroyed Washington Park in 1977, and Aurora Downs went out of business in 1976. During a 99-day peak stretch in the summer of 1979, Sportsman’s averaged daily attendance of 13,136 patrons who wagered a daily average of $1.6 million, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2017. Back then, harness racing outdrew thoroughbred racing at Arlington Park. Thoroughbreds — the types of horses raced at the Kentucky Derby — are larger but more delicate animals, Roth said. “Standardbred horses are tougher,” she said. Breeding stallions and mares for thoroughbred racing also is more expensive. Harness racers turned to Amish farmers for standardbred workhorses, Welch said. “Amish breeders were breeding every buggy mare they had,” he said. Thoroughbred racing has jockeys; standardbred racing has drivers. Several factors contributed to the decline of harness racing in Illinois, including the introduction of riverboat casinos in the 1990s. In 1995, state lawmakers introduced “purse recapture,” a provision designed to help racetracks when live simulcasts of out-of-state races were introduced. Recapture awarded track owners a share of money that otherwise would have been allotted to purses. The lower purses in Illinois drove many horsemen and horses to races in other states. The decline in racing quality further diminished attendance. “It was a chain reaction,” Roth said. The new legislation ends purse recapture after nearly 25 years. “Purse recapture was the killer,” Welch said. “The racetracks kept recapturing the money and the wagering dollars were less and less every year.” The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association estimates that harness racing-related jobs stand at about 20,000 in Illinois, down from a peak of more than 60,000 two decades ago. The new legislation will create jobs indirectly related to harness racing, including racetrack positions such as tellers, bartenders, servers, marketers and accountants, the IHHA said. “The ripple effect of our industry on the Illinois economy is wide and difficult to grasp sometimes,” IHHA President Marty Engel said in a statement. “It was one of our missions to make sure that our economic impact was understood as valuable.” Blacksmith Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, shoes a horse on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "A lot of people left. Now there's a lot of talk that they want to come home," he said of harness racing-related jobs in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, is a blacksmith who shoes horses at Sawgrass and other training centers. “It seemed like we had a dying business here,” Halvorson said. “A lot of people left. Now there’s a lot of talk they that want to come home.” Despite track closures, declining attendance and job losses in the industry, horsemen and women are optimistic that the new legislation will create growth within a few years. “I’m excited,” Welch said. “I think it’s going to be real promising.” Welch and others believe breeders, buyers and workers will return to Illinois as the harness racing industry is re-established. “This is going to get our breeding business going again,” Roth said.  By TED SLOWIK  Reprinted with permission of The Chicago Tribune

WOODBURY, N.Y. — The state Legislature has approved the creation of a video gambling hall in this Orange County town. The legislation allows Empire Resorts, which operates the Resorts World Catskills casino and Monticello Raceway in Sullivan County, to use the VLT (video lottery terminal) license that it held for the Monticello site at the new location.  Empire discontinued video gambling at Monticello earlier this year. The new operation, expected to have more than 1,100 VLTs and employ about 400 people, is to be at the site of the long-closed Nepera Chemical plant in Woodbury, which has been reduced to rubble and is contaminated. Empire Resorts will be responsible for cleaning up the site and will get no tax breaks, according to state Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury. New York state will kick in $1.2 million of offset the cost of municipal services associated with the project. The legislation allowing the VLT parlor commits Empire Resorts, which has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support, to preserve at least 1,473 full-time jobs at Resorts World casino. Empire has suffered steep financial losses since opening the casino in early 2018, and it recently got permission from the state to reduce the number of gaming tables there. The legislation also mandates the “long-term operation of harness racing in Monticello." The video gambling operation still must go through the approval process at the local level. Mid-Hudson News Network Reprinted with permission of The Daily Freeman

All four non-Indian casinos in state are missing their financial targets Little more than a year since their grand openings, two of New York’s four non-Indian casinos are asking the state for financial help. Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County are both making their cases with state lawmakers as the negotiations for the 2018-2019 state budget wind down to the final hours in Albany. Details on their requests are elusive and, given the secretive nature of deal-making in the Capitol, quite possibly subject to change or outright rejection. But the casinos' financial data is readily available through an online state database. Both casinos’ performance (and that of the two other casinos) has fallen well short of initial projections offered when their backers were trying to sell their proposals to state regulators and New York voters were being asked to approve limited legalized casino gambling. Rivers projected tax payments of $69 million to $86 million during its first year of operation but paid $45.45 million to the state from March 2017 through February 2018. Del Lago projected $59 million to $76 million but paid $42.92 million. Meanwhile, Rivers’ first general manager departed in November and Del Lago’s general manager announced Tuesday he would be departing at the end of this week. Both had been with their respective operations since before they opened. Also Tuesday, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that a Del Lago official was in Albany, asking state lawmakers to provide relief. The official would not specify what exactly he was seeking. A Del Lago spokesman would say only that the casino is suffering from recently increased and grossly unfair competition from nearby Indian-run casino operations. Details were likewise hazy on the request by Rivers. A New Jersey public relations agency working for Rivers said there would be no comment on the matter.  A lobbyist reportedly working for the casinos did not return a call seeking comment.  The state Gaming Commission and state Department of Taxation and Finance said the casinos’ requests has not reached the stage where it would be in their hands.  The State Division of the Budget would say only that “budget negotiations are ongoing,” which is certainly very accurate: The state budget deadline is 11:59 p.m. Saturday. However, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district contains Rivers Casino & Resort, said he has been given a rough idea of what Rivers is requesting, and said he endorses it. In summary, Rivers seeks: To take 10 percent of the tax money it pays to the state and spend it instead on marketing. The goal is to increase patronage, increase gambling and thereby increase its own revenue. (This ultimately would bring in more tax revenue, Steck said; in the meantime, there would be no reduction in host-community payments to the city, county, city school district or to surrounding counties.) An end to the requirement that it pay the state to run security checks on its prospective employees. (Steck said that the state hasn’t been collecting that and doesn’t require it of the nearest competing gambling facility, Saratoga Casino Hotel.) An end to payments Rivers is required to make to Saratoga Casino Hotel to make up for revenue shortfalls in Saratoga. (An official with Saratoga Casino Hotel said this is inaccurate, Rivers pays it nothing — it pays the horsemen’s association to compensate for reduced prize money at the Saratoga harness track.) “None of this is a huge change,” Steck said, adding that the requests seem reasonable and he supports them. Thirteen months into the casino era in Schenectady, he considers Rivers a positive force in the city, having fulfilled its promise of increased economic activity in surrounding areas and a new revenue stream for the local municipalities. “I’m not a fan of casinos generally,” Steck said, calling them effectively a tax on the poor and the middle class.  He said he would have sought other means of boosting state tax revenue had he been governor. But he’s not governor, and the man who is, Andrew Cuomo, didn't share his views. So New York has four non-Indian casinos, and he accepts that as reality. Aware of the pun, Steck added: “You have to play the hand you’re dealt.” James Featherstonhaugh, corporate secretary and part-owner of Saratoga Casino Hotel, said the situation is unfolding much as he expected it would when the state authorized construction of a full-service casino 20 miles south of Saratoga. That is: a 25-percent revenue reduction for the Saratoga Casino Hotel, where the gambling options are limited to video gaming machines and wagers on harness racing. Featherstonhaugh expects nothing good to come of the late-hour move by Rivers and Del Lago to gain relief through the state. “I think it’s clear that the gaming universe in New York could be thoughtfully and responsibly reviewed with the goal being to have both a healthy industry which will continue and grow education revenue in New York,” he said. “But that cannot be done in 48 hours or 72 hours.” Featherstonhaugh thinks it will be another 18 months or so before the financial picture stabilizes for the two Capital Region gambling facilities.  Steck said he hadn’t researched the financial impact of Rivers on Saratoga Casino Hotel, nor has he heard any complaints about it. Rivers opened Feb. 8, 2017. A New York State Gaming Commission database shows that $1.99 billion was gambled at Saratoga Casino Hotel from March 2017 through February 2018, an 18.1 percent decrease from $2.43 billion in the preceding 12 months. By John Cropley Reprinted with permission of The Daily Gazette

MONTICELLO, NY -- It's the biggest of the new Upstate New York full-service casinos, but state financial records show it may have had the smallest opening. Resorts World Catskills, the $1.2 billion gaming and event complex located off Route 17, opened Feb. 8, more than a month ahead of schedule. That meant it opened with just a third of its hotel rooms and a handful of its dining options. Some gambling offerings -- like the poker room and private gaming salons -- weren't operating yet, either. "We're open, but we don't have all the pistons in the engine," said Charlie Degliomini, executive vice president for the casino's owner, Empire Resorts.  That could explain Resorts World Catskills' slow start in earning: Gaming revenues for its opening weeks in February failed to match the numbers put up by two other full-service Upstate casinos -- del Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady -- when they opened in February 2017. The Catskills resort, just off Route 17 near Monticello,  also didn't earn as much as either of those casinos did in a side-by-side comparison of the final weeks of this February, according to records compiled by the New York State Gaming Commission. Resorts World Catskills opened amid mounting concerns that the Upstate New York casino market is saturated. The three full-service non-Indian owned casinos that opened in recent years -- del Lago, Rivers and the smaller Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier -- collectively earned about $200 million less in their first year than they had projected when they applied for state licenses.  As a result, there's a lot of attention paid to the state gaming commission reports on what are called  "gross gambling revenue." That's what a casino keeps after winnings are paid out, but before taxes and operating expenses. Here's a comparison of Resorts World Catskills revenues with del Lago and Rivers: First two-plus weeks of opening: Resorts World Catskills: $8.7 million (February 2018) Del Lago: $9.3 million (February 2017) Rivers: $10.3 million (February 2017). Direct comparison of final two full weeks of February 2018: Resorts World Catkills: $5.3 million Del Lago: 6.8 million Rivers: $6.5 million Resorts World opened in February with 2,151 slot machines and 112 table games, plus about one third of its hotel rooms and two dining options. Resorts World Catskills expects to open more of its features by the end of March and into April, Degliomini said. The poker room opened this week, and two restaurants should open in coming weeks. Eventually there will be 10 or more dining options. Also still to come are Resorts World's private gaming salons, which aim to provide "high roller' customers with what the casino calls a "curated" gaming experience unlike its Upstate competitors. "So all in all, it's inaccurate to look strictly at the numbers so far," Degliomini said. "We didn't plan to open until March. So this is, literally, found money. We didn't even budget for it. Wait and see what happens when we get this engine fully running." Analysts who believe the Upstate casino market is saturated say Resorts World does have several advantages: It is closer to the big New York City market than the others and is geared to attract a significant numberof Asian and Asian-American clients. (Its gaming floor features several tables popular with Asian gamblers and much of its staff speaks Mandarin and other Asian languages). It also has a solid international gambling pedigree: Resorts World Catskills is owned by Empire Resorts, which also operates the nearby Monticello Raceway, a racino that combines harness racing and slots. The majority shareholder of Empire Resorts is K.T. Lim, a billionaire Malaysian gaming magnate. He is chairman of the Genting Group, operator of casinos and resorts around the world -- including those under the Resorts World name. In this case, Empire Resorts is the owner, and it is operating as a Resorts World under a license with Genting. There's also more to come: A Rees Jones-designed golf course is under development and a  family-friendly  indoor waterpark will soon be under construction. Both should open in 2019. Don Cazentre writes about Upstate NY casinos for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at dcazentre@nyup.com, or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook. Reprinted with permission of the New York Upstate site

If civil actions had bookies, these horse folks might be 100-to-1 longshots. Three years ago, a group of Ontario racehorse breeders took Kathleen Wynne’s government to court over claims the province made a “bad faith” decision in 2012 to abruptly end a lucrative revenue-sharing agreement with the horse racing industry. The standardbred breeders allege cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program damaged their livelihoods. But the rural plaintiffs — who in 2015 notched a legal victory in obtaining government documents tied to the agreement cancellation, as court-ordered disclosure — continue to battle the government. On Monday, the sides are back in a Guelph courthouse. Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Emery will hear motions from the province and co-defendant Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to quash summonses for 13 witnesses — including Wynne, her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, former finance minister Dwight Duncan and economist Don Drummond. “The evidence shows that these are the folks who are the only ones who can bring any level of transparency to the decision that was made and imposed in 2012,” said Toronto lawyer Jonathan Lisus, who represents the breeders seeking $65 million in damages. “They were directly and personally involved in the decision, its implementation and the response to the harm that was caused.” The province and the OLG deny all allegations of wrongdoing in their statements of defence. Earlier this year, both filed motions to have the case summarily dismissed, a matter scheduled for a November hearing. Emilie Smith, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said in a written statement that “Ontario has brought a summary judgment motion” to proceed in Superior Court “to have the action dismissed on the basis that it does not raise a genuine issue for trial.” “After Ontario confirmed that it would be bringing a summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs served fifteen summonses to witness,” Smith said. “Ontario has brought a motion to quash thirteen of the fifteen summonses on the basis that the evidence of the summonsed witnesses is not relevant to the summary judgment motion and that the summonses are an abuse of process.” She continued: “As this matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further.” OLG also declined comment. “It would be inappropriate for OLG to comment on matters before the courts,” said spokesperson Tony Bitonti. The defendants have already deposed 17 plaintiffs. Lisus said his clients want the opportunity to examine current and former senior government officials on their witness list, under oath. “I understand the government may not want this decision-making process to be scrutinized but it (ending the slots agreement) caused a lot of harm to a lot of people,” Lisus said. “The documents and evidence demonstrate they (the defendants) knew it would cause a lot of harm to a lot of people.” Around 1998, the slots agreement grew out of the Ontario government’s interest in installing the machines at racetracks. In 2012, then-finance minister Dwight Duncan announced the revenue-sharing deal would be scrapped. With a year’s notice to the horse racing industry, it officially ceased in 2013. Up to that point, horse racing’s share of slots revenue was about $4 billion. A key component of the breeders’ allegations hinges on the five-to-seven-year cycle needed to produce a standardbred racing horse from conception to the start gate. They claim the breeding cycle was well-known to the defendants, who also understood that breeders plan their businesses on this timeline. Lisus said the government’s one-year notice to end the slots deal devastated breeders, noting “the value of horses completely halved overnight.” “It’s not the plaintiffs’ position that the revenue share had to continue forever or could never be renegotiated,” the lawyer said. “The way the government did it, which was to essentially give no notice and say revenue sharing is going to stop, caused the bottom to fall entirely out of the market, and it never came back,” Lisus continued. “The documents show they knew that would happen.” The breeders claim that information contained in the court-ordered disclosure shows senior government officials were planning to cancel the slots program “without warning” even while the province was reassuring the horse industry that the partnership would continue, according to the plaintiffs’ responding factum to the motion to quash summonses. The disclosure documents also contain emails between government officials. Another aspect of the civil action pertains to the government compensating racetrack owners and not those who produce the racing animals after the slots deal was scrapped. “Ontario and OLG paid $80.6 million in compensation to those racetrack owners, while refusing to even discuss compensation for the standardbred breeders,” are among the allegations contained in the breeders’ statement of claim. The standardbred breeders were not a party to the slots contracts, which were signed by individual racetrack owners and OLG. However, Justice Emery, in his 2015 decision to order broad document access for the plaintiffs, wrote that “reports by (the Ontario Racing Commission) and other publications reflected the long-term nature of the commitments Ontario and OLG were making to racetracks and stakeholders in the horse racing industry.” The province, in its statement of defence filed by the attorney general’s office, denied “all allegations of liability and wrongdoing referred to in the plaintiff’s claim” and said at all times “the Crown acted in the public interest.” In addition, government decisions “made in relation to the implementation and termination of the Slots at Racetracks Program were core policy and fiscal decisions made in the public interest and made at the Ministerial and Cabinet level of government and are, accordingly, immune from suit,” according to defence pleadings filed by the attorney general’s office. The province also contends: “If the plaintiffs suffered any losses, which the Crown denies, those losses resulted from something other than actions of the Crown.” By Mary Ormsby Reprinted with permission of The Star        

KITTERY, Maine — A York County casino could be in the cards for southern Maine courtesy of a citizen initiative slated to be on the November ballot. The group Harness Racing Jobs Fairness LLC, based in Augusta, introduced the citizen petition in December and the secretary of state certified it Jan. 23. This measure would allow for a single casino or slot parlor to be constructed in a town willing to host it in York County. The Legislature has the ability to vote on the bill sometime between now and the November election. Historically, the Legislature has declined to vote on citizen petitions and usually allows them to go before the voters. According to the ballot initiative, 10 percent of net income from slot machines, and 9 percent of net income from table games would be earmarked for the Maine Department of Education. Smaller fractions are to be set aside for the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquody Tribe, higher education in Maine, agriculture, drug addiction programs, the "Fund to Encourage Racing at Maine's Commercial Tracks," and several other entities. Both the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquody Tribe did not return multiple phone calls asking what they would be doing to receive 1 percent of net slot income under the proposed legislation. One element that troubles opponents of the casino is the stipulation that 10 percent of net slot income would be given to the harness racing industry. "This bill is written like people in York County care about saving this gambling industry from a bygone era," said Jenny Freeman, a Kittery resident who was a founding member of the Casinos No political action committee in 2003. "It simply can't support itself anymore." Harness Racing Jobs Fairness is associated with Las Vegas casino developer Shawn Scott. Scott's associates would stand to come away with 61 percent of the net gaming revenue for a York County facility. In 2014, the gaming management company White Sands Gaming published a report for the Maine Legislative Council that arrived at the conclusion that Maine could support another casino, and wrote, "Based on demographics including population, income, age and propensity to game this facility should be located in southern Maine (Maine beaches) with close proximity and access to Interstate 95. Southern Maine includes not only substantial Maine population but is positioned to draw upon important demographics in New Hampshire and Massachusetts." The Oxford Casino and Hollywood Casino in Bangor netted more than $80 million and more than $52 million, respectively, in gaming income in 2016, with a majority of revenue from slots, according to the Maine Gambling Control Board. Scott was responsible for establishing Bangor's slot parlor in 2003 at the Bangor harness racetrack. He sold the racetrack and parlor rights to Penn National Gaming for $51 million shortly after they were approved. It was Scott's ownership of the Bangor racetrack and casino, or "racino," in 2003, which served as the basis for the language on the proposed ballot initiative in York County. It grants his group the exclusive right to open the York County casino, and reads, "the board may accept an application for a slot machine operator license or casino operator license; to operate in York County slot machines at a slot machine facility or slot machines and table games at a casino from any entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County that conducted harness racing with pari-mutuel wagering on more than 25 days during calendar year 2002." In other words, the referendum would give Shawn Scott the exclusive rights to develop the new York County casino. Harness Racing Jobs Fairness did not return multiple attempts to reach its representatives for comment. Kittery has specific language in its town charter prohibiting the establishment of a casino in town and the only way the charter can be changed is through a public referendum. "It's my understanding that the language in the town charter protects us from the state voting to put a casino in," said Town Council Chairman Gary Beers. "There may be some other towns interested, but any potential casino would have to follow the local zoning regulations of the specific municipality." Tim Feeley, spokesman for the Office of the Maine Attorney General, said since the proposed bill has language saying a willing town would have to either approve a casino by a public referendum or vote by a town's municipal officers, a town like Kittery would not have to worry about the rest of the voters in Maine approving a casino for York County and giving developers free rein over where they would like to put it. However, casinos do not operate in the vacuum of a single community and often have spillover costs that affect surrounding towns, according to state Rep. Mark W. Lawrence, D-South Berwick. "I have a friend in law enforcement who says when you build a casino you need to prepare for OUIs at all hours of the day, since these are a non-stop operations, and they'll bring you free drinks if you keep playing," Lawrence said. "States become addicted to gaming revenue and don't consider the policy impacts. The state essentially becomes promoters of gaming in order to increase revenue." This ballot effort illustrates a concern with Maine's citizen initiative law, which allows individual entities to gain economic advantage through a narrowly tailored ballot initiative and not through the legislative process. "My concern is the citizen ballot process is becoming a process where one group specifically is trying to craft a law to get a special privilege," Lawrence said. "Conversely, then you'll only see one group oppose the measure, in this case it would likely be the Bangor and Oxford (casino) owners." Some fear with more casinos opening, there may be an over-saturation of gaming in New England. Wynn will be opening a casino resort just outside of Boston in 2019 to go along with the Bangor and Oxford casinos in Maine. Wynn paid $85 million for its gaming license, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission's application. "Under this referendum, Shawn Scott would pay the state $5 million for the licensing fee, a drop in the bucket when you consider what the developer of the Wynn casino outside of Boston paid," said Freeman of Kittery. "He made a quick $51 million from the Bangor casino in 2003 and thinks we're dumb enough to give him another ridiculously sweet deal." By Alexander LaCasse alacasse@seacoastonline.com Reprinted with permission of the fosters.com site

ALBANY -- In 2003, New York's racetracks were paying out among the lowest prizes in the nation, and many of the tracks, particularly upstate harness racing facilities, were nearly set to be put out to pasture. Then the racetracks started adding video-lottery terminals. Now, the purses -- the amount paid out to winners in the races -- are among the highest in the nation, and the revenue at the so-called racinos has also soared. With three new upstate casinos opening in recent months, the state's existing gaming halls face new competition after enjoying years of rising revenue for their casino-like facilities and horse-racing operations, a review of records by the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau found. Purses at New York's seven harness tracks have tripled over the past 14 years, creating an unprecedented dynamic: There's nearly no one in the stands, but the prize money is at levels not seen in decades. "I’ve said to many people that if you want to make money in (harness) racing, this is the best opportunity you’ve had in many, many years," said Bob Galterio, the COO at Yonkers Raceway, the state's largest harness track. ►NY just had a record year for its lottery ►With three new NY casinos open, can they succeed? ►House wins big with casino tax breaks Ninety-two percent of the money from gamblers at the state's racetracks with the video-lottery terminals goes to pay the players as prizes. The key figure is the 8 percent that's left: It is split among the tracks, the horsemen and the state. Without the piece that goes to purses and breeders, horse racing in New York would be nearly non-existent, track officials and experts said. The industry is a major one in New York's agricultural sector: It employs 32,000 people, according to its trade organizations. "If the VLTs didn’t come in 2004, I really doubt racing would be here," said Chris Riegle, the president of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing, the only upstate thoroughbred track outside of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. Also, "I don’t think there would be very many harness tracks in New York." Avoiding closures Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-Gov. George Pataki and state lawmakers sought to help the state's economy by allowing the horse tracks to add video-lottery terminals -- the slot-machine-like devices controlled by a central computer system in Schenectady. The move was a way to boost the state's coffers by designating about half of that coveted 8 percent to fund schools. It also was a way to keep horse racing alive after decades of decline in the sport, which was once a major local draw. Batavia Downs in western New York is the oldest nighttime harness track in the nation. Yonkers drew 40,000 people on weekend nights in the 1960s. In 2004, the first VLT facilities opened. It has been a boon to all sides. "It definitely saved racing; it saved the jobs," said Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier and Vernon Downs in central New York. Of the net win -- the money left in the machines after payouts to winners -- 8.75 percent goes to the horsemen and 1.25 percent to the breeders. The rest is split between the state and racinos. The tracks also get 10 percent for marketing and 4 percent for facility improvements -- including hotels that some are building. The money has helped the state's coffers: The racinos contributed nearly $1 billion in 2015 to the state designated for education -- or 48 percent of the nearly $2 billion in net win. Anthony Palermo, of Rochester, plays a slot machine on opening day of del Lago Casino.  (Photo: Jamie Germano/@jgermano1/Staff Photographer)   Soaring purses The purses at the state's eight racetracks and the three tracks run by the New York Racing Association hit $301 million in 2015 -- up 87 percent since 2003. For just the seven harness tracks, purses went from $35 million to $118 million, records from the state Gaming Commission showed. So the average purse per race went from about $4,000 to $11,000 over the 14 years -- putting New York among the top five in the nation. The figures have been extraordinary at some tracks: Batavia Downs' purses grew from $1.8 million to $5.5 million; from $4 million to $18 million at Saratoga harness; and from $20 million to nearly $63 million to Yonkers. Some tracks said they are dealing with a shortage of horses. "If you and four friends had $20,000. The best thing to do is to get together, each kick in $4,000 and buy a $20,000 claimer and race it at Yonkers Racetrack," Galterio said. "The purses are so good. You race every week." Rising racinos While the gambling money has throw life preserver to racing, it also boosted the tracks' owners. The money going to the racinos has skyrocketed since they opened. The tracks, after a sluggish start, negotiated lower payments to the state in 2007. At Finger Lakes, the so-called agent commission -- the tracks' main revenue stream -- doubled to $40 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year that ended March 31. At Yonkers, it was up 50 percent to $177 million since 2008, while Tioga Downs' commission grew 59 percent since 2007 to $22 million. So while the purses are up, so too are the tracks' fortunes, said Joe Faraldo, president of the state's Standardbred Owners Association, which represents the harness horsemen. "The horsemen, their purses have gone up dramatically -- the same way track revenue has gone up with these VLTs," Faraldo said. Live harness racing at Batavia Downs. (Photo: Annette Lein)   Subsidizing racing So the situation has created a scenario where purses are up despite fewer people betting on the races. Yonkers stopped publishing its attendance figures in the late 1980s. VLT revenue provides an increasing percentage of the purses: In 2004, 50 percent of the purses came from the VLT revenue; in 2011, it was 71 percent, state records show. At the same time, total handle at the harness tracks -- the amount bet on the races -- dropped 21 percent between 2003 and 2015, hurt in part by the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting in 2010. The on-track betting on the races also fell: It was down 56 percent at Yonkers over that stretch and down from $3.4 million to $1.5 million at Batavia. Most of the betting comes from simulcasting of races around the state, country and internationally, which is a growing business at Yonkers, in particular. "I don’t want to say it’s become a television studio, but it more important to produce a good-looking television signal than to have tasty hot dogs in the stands," Galterio said. Growing competition The reliance on VLT revenue has raised concerns within the racing industry, which fears the tracks will one day seek to drop racing or cut the amount that goes to it. "A lot of these racinos kind of make it difficult to go to the track, because they would rather be a straight casino and not do racing at all," Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, said. Those fears have grown after the casinos opened in recent months in the Finger Lakes and Schenectady, with one set to open next year in the Catskills. At Finger Lakes, it received a lower tax rate last year because of the competition from del Lago, which opened earlier this month in Tyre, Seneca County, 28 miles away. Even with the competition, though, the horsemen will be held harmless. The 2013 law that allowed for four upstate casinos included a provision that requires the new casinos to keep purses at the same level as 2013 -- if the new casinos cut into the racinos' bottom line.  (Photo: File photo)   Negotiating at Finger Lakes That's a current fight: The horsemen at Finger Lakes face a cut in purses if the racino's revenue drops because of del Lago, which is not required to make the track whole. The casinos have to help the racetracks in the zones established by the state: Finger Lakes, though, is outside the del Lago zone. The sides -- Finger Lakes, del Lago and the state -- are now trying to find a solution to help the horsemen. "I’m hopeful we’ll come to a conclusion very quickly," Riegle said. Pretlow said the Legislature has no plans to revisit the split of revenue between the tracks and the racing industry: "Part of this whole thing is to help racing." The tracks said they continue to invest in their racing, saying it is still a viable portion of their business. Yonkers points to expansion in recent years of hosting major stakes races, including the $1 million International Trot each fall; tracks said they have upgraded their racing facilities. But the tracks often seek fewer racing dates each year, despite protests from the industry, and Finger Lakes won't disclose how many dates it wants this year as it negotiates a new contract with its horsemen. "It really boils down to how much purse money you have to hand out and how many horses you have," Riegle at Finger Lakes said. "If you have a respectable amount of both, you can run more." Gaming the future Dave Brown, president of the Finger Lakes horsemen association, charged that the tracks would just as soon drop racing if they could, but they are bound by the state law. "There is no question they’d love to not run. And they make it difficult for us," he said. Riegle rejected that idea, saying it is still "a pretty significant piece" of the business. Gural, a horse owner who also owns the Meadowlands track in northern New Jersey, said he's concerned about the future of racing in New York. The tracks are not required to market the sport to new customers, and its fan base is dwindling. In December, Tioga Downs received a gaming license to turn from a VLT facility to a full-scale casino. "Without the slots or the VLTs, there would be no harness racing. It’s totally dependent on the revenue we receive from the slots," Gural said. He added, "The problem is that most of our customers are older and we have not successfully created an industry for the younger generation. So what happens when all those people die off?" Joseph Spector , Albany Bureau Chief Reprinted with permission of The Democrat and Chronicle

Columbus, OH --- Therepublic.com is reporting that a New Jersey lawmaker who expects voters to reject a plan to expand casinos to the northern part of the state is eyeing other ways to get slot machines into the state’s harness racing tracks -- preferably ones that don’t involve asking the public for permission. Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a northern New Jersey Democrat and former casino worker, told The Associated Press on Monday (Oct. 17) he will amend two bills he introduced this year to authorize video lottery terminals at state racetracks including the Meadowlands in East Rutherford and Monmouth Park in Oceanport. To read the full story, click here. USTA Communications Department

MANALAPAN, NJ -- September 23, 2016 -- Despite the suspension of a statewide campaign to encourage residents to support casino gaming outside of Atlantic City, the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey today announced that it would continue its grassroots efforts to help pass the ballot question that could provide much needed revenue to bolster New Jersey's struggling harness racing horsemen. It's frustrating that the best financed advocates for casino gaming in North Jersey decided to pull the plug on their statewide campaign,' said Mark Ford, President of the SBOANJ. " Our members now must use our limited financial resources to drive the message to voters that a YES vote on Question 1 will provide our industry with additional revenue to continue offering the residents and taxpayers of New Jersey important entertainment and quality of life benefits. Even if others are stepping back from the fight, the horsemen have no choice but to step up and do our part." This November 8th, voters will choose whether to allow casino gaming outside of Atlantic City. If the ballot question passes, the New Jersey Legislature could authorize two new casinos to be built in northern New Jersey. A percentage of the state tax revenue collected from the new casinos would be dedicated to supporting the horse racing industry. The SBOANJ has scheduled series of media interviews, public appearances, and social media events to highlight the Association and the benefit its members bring to their towns and communities. Courtney Stafford

Current Climate, Polling Data, Lack Of Specifics Make Campaign Untenable Roseland - Paul Fireman and Jeff Gural are today reluctantly announcing the suspension of the paid media component of the statewide OUR Turn NJ campaign. In doing so, they issued the following joint statement: "We believe deeply that gaming expansion to Northern New Jersey is a remarkable opportunity that should not be squandered. We have committed $4 billion in private investment to this state to create world class resort destinations with gaming. The benefits include 43,000 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in recaptured revenue -- a rare opportunity for New Jersey. In addition, as New York debates allowing gaming in New York City, it is critical that we beat them to market or risk losing this opportunity permanently. "The data, however, speaks for itself. The current political climate in New Jersey and voters' concerns about the lack of details relating to the effort have proved overwhelming. Even knowing that an out-of-country gaming company that sends New Jerseyans' gaming dollars to Malaysia is funding opposition ads does not have an impact. As such, with great reluctance we have decided to suspend the paid media component of the statewide campaign." Recent internal and third-party polling data have noted how difficult the current climate is. As noted in the attached internal polling summary, "Voters have a very negative outlook on the direction of the state and have extremely low confidence that the revenue promised in the Casino Expansion Amendment will be delivered as it is promised. Just 19% of New Jersey voters believe that the state is headed in the right direction. And an even lower proportion (10%) have a high level of confidence that the state will deliver upon the promised revenue as stated in the ballot measure." The summary also notes that when asked to explain why they have low or no confidence in the revenue being delivered as promised in the amendment, 50% of respondents say it is because politicians will use the funds for their own priorities, while another 30% volunteer that it is a concern for them. The polling shows that, while there are strong arguments to be made for the benefits of gaming expansion, "Respondents react very strongly to reasons to oppose the Amendment, which play to the lack of specifics and distrust directed at state government in Trenton. For comparison, the highest testing positive message is viewed as a very strong reason to support the measure by 48% of voters. The four negative messages tested in the survey all receive anywhere between 56% to 60% of voters who say that each one is a very strong reason to oppose the measure." Polling released earlier this week by Rutgers-Eagleton reinforces this voter dissatisfaction. In that poll, only 25 percent of those surveyed believe New Jersey is headed in the right direction, while 68 percent say the state has gone off on the wrong track. The poll is available at: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-Christie-casinos-NJ-Booker-Menendez-Sept2016/ The current campaign to expand gaming is mirroring New Jersey's first efforts to legalize casino gaming in 1974. In that year, the New Jersey voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize gaming due to a lack of specifics in the ballot question about where casinos would be located. Two years later, a revised ballot question passed. One of the main reasons the 1976 question passed, unlike the 1974 one, was that it was more specific in nature. The 1974 campaign indicated that casinos would most likely be in Atlantic City, but the resolution itself did not indicate a specific location. Thus, proponents of the 1974 resolution "later admitted that a large number of voters apparently rejected the proposal simply because they did not want to see casinos in their own community."[1] In 1976, the resolution clearly stated that casinos would only be legal in Atlantic City, making voters far more comfortable with the idea. Gaming Polling Summary  

RUTHERFORD, NJ -- June 4, 2016 -- Harness racing President Mark Ford along with Anthony Perretti and Mike Gulotta aligned forces with top state Democrats, county officials and union leaders on Friday at a news conference to convey their confidence to the public that casino gambling will be brought to the northern part of the state. Among those who spoke in favor of the expansion were Democrats Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Senator Paul Sarlo, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senator Bob Gordon, and Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney stood at the conference in front of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce stating that bringing casino gambling to the area was “the right thing to do for the whole state.” "This gives us an opportunity to create thousands and thousands of construction jobs in the northern part of the state of New Jersey," Sweeney said. "But guess what; it gives us the ability to create thousands and thousands of jobs in the southern part of the state and helps us to rebuild Atlantic City, and gives Atlantic City the opportunity to be the destination we want it to be." Building northern casinos will have a ripple effect that will benefit the economy state wide, not just Bergen County, according to County Executive Tedesco. The Meadowlands is not the only proposed location, Hudson and Essex County are also being considered. However, it is the most important location for New Jersey horsemen. Tedesco believes the Meadowlands is a “perfect spot” for gaming expansion it is already a “premier entertainment destination” because of the Met Life Stadium, large-scale concerts and the current development of the American Dream project that already take place in the area. “The best is yet to come especially when we add casino gaming to the mix.” The public will have the opportunity to vote this November on whether or not casinos should be expanded via ballot question. New Jersey Senate Democrats released figures that state casinos could generate an estimated $4 billion in economic activity, and up to 20,000 construction and permanent jobs in North Jersey. The Atlantic City region will also benefit with $3 billion and thousands of jobs. It is very important that all horsemen go out and vote in favor of casino expansion this November. Courtney Stafford, for the SBOANJ

Win Systems, a global technology supplier for the gaming and entertainment industry, has recently entered into a contract with Encore Gaming and has installed its Multisite WIGOS CMS in 5 venues, with a minimum of 300 machines, in the state of Wyoming, and operated by Wyoming Horse Racing LLC. This new contract is a result of the successful installation in April 2015, of Win Systems’ WIGOS CMS at the Kentucky Downs horse racing track in Franklin, Kentucky. These events strategically position the company to grow in the emerging Historical Horse Racing market in the United States. The migration to the WIGOS system at Kentucky Downs involved the connection of 500 new Encore Historical Horse Racing terminals. The player tracking, a very useful and important tool to collect customer information for marketing actions, offers, together with the newest In-Touch screens integrated in the gaming machines, a different and more exciting customer experience. WIGOS has reached a high level of excellence, thanks to the reliability and quality of the product, and the high level of customer service offered by the company. Eric Benchimol, Win Systems’ CEO says: “We are very happy to celebrate this contract with Encore, located in the United States, one of the largest and most competitive markets in the world. Win Systems looks forward to building long lasting relationships with its clients. The fact that in 2015 over 46 casinos in 10 countries have installed WIGOS CMS, demonstrates that our clients are very satisfied with our product and the service that we offer.” “The inclusion of the WIGOS CMS with our product offering enables us to provide a complete turnkey solution to our customers. It’s a great, comprehensive player and operation management system that are essential to a successful deployment,” stated Jeremy Stein, President of Encore Gaming LLC. Win Systems, with over 220 casinos and 60.000 machines connected to its WIGOS CMS, offers solid and reliable systems with the experience of thousands and millions of ERROR-FREE transactions, in compliance with the strictest governmental security requirements established in different countries.  About Win Systems WIN SYSTEMS is a global technology provider for the gaming and entertainment industry, specialists in systems and services for Casinos and Lotteries, gaming devices and server based video lottery terminals (VLTs). WIN offers a full range of technology services, including design, programming, installation, operation and maintenance of its systems. Win Systems has over 20 years of experience in the management of high availability systems and real-time critical operations. Its main products are: MULTIGAME©, the Land-Based Lottery System; WIGOS CMS©, Casino Management System – CMS; WIGOS XPRESS, its Accounting system for in route machines; WIGOS VLT©, Video Lottery System-VLT’s; and WIN GAMES© an extensive library of games. For more information: www.winsystemsintl.com //+34 93 530 80 49 || Tw: @win_systems About Encore Gaming, LLC For more information about the company and the EncoreRBG historic horse racing system, visit www.encorerbg.com, or the EncoreRBG Facebook page. Maria Eugenia                                  

If change doesn’t come soon to the state’s horse racing industry, Pennsylvania legislators claim that the racing commissions “will be destroyed”. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding testified Monday in front of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee regarding Senate Bill 352, which would make major changes to the Race Horse Industry Reform Act. According to FOX 43, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and the Harness Racing Commission are both funded through a restricted account – the Racing Fund – which was established in 1981. The account is solely funded by a tax generated from wagering at the state’s racetracks. The Gaming Act was passed in 2004, which allowed casino gambling in the state. Since that time wagering has fallen, and as a result, funding for the state’s racing commissions has dropped some 71 percent. “The fund is simply collapsing because folks are putting their bets into slots and their dollars are going in a different direction,” Redding told FOX 43. However, passage of the bill is not a certainty. Five of the six racetracks in the state oppose the legislation. According to the report, since the Gaming Act was established in 2004, Pennsylvania’s casinos have generated more than $2 billion per year in revenue. According to a Gaming Control Board report in 2014, $242 million of the $2.3 billion generated by slot machines went to horse racing. In a joint statement to the Pennsylvania legislature, the tracks said – “The introduction of slots and casino style gaming has been an undisputed success. Because the legislature wisely directed that gaming revenues be utilized to support racing purses, Pennsylvania’s horse breeding industry is thriving and its racing industry has shared in gaming’s success.” Read more at FOX43.com

The owner of the Tioga Downs racino in New York’s Southern Tier says a recent presentation to state officials made him optimistic about his proposal to expand his facility into a full casino. Jeff Gural told The Associated Press on Friday that the recent meeting with the state’s casino location review board went well and he’s confident local residents will support his plans at a public hearing scheduled for Friday in Binghamton. Gural also owns Vernon Downs and has said the futures of both harness racing tracks are linked. Tioga Downs submitted a bid for a casino license last year but the board instead recommended three other projects around the state. Tioga Downs submitted a second application when bidding was reopened for a fourth license.  

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - June 3, 2015 - The plans for Hard Rock International to bring a casino to the Meadowlands Racetrack were unveiled at a well-attended media event on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 in the Victory Sports Bar at the Meadowlands. Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, and Jeff Gural, chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, were joined by state legislators, chamber of commerce leaders and union leaders, all speaking on behalf of the plan, which calls for 5,000 slot machines and 200 gaming tables which could yield more than $400 million in new tax revenues annually for the State of New Jersey. "This was a positive step in the right direction," said Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, who was among the SBOANJ contingent attending the event. "I see the action stirred up with a better than 50-50 chance to get this on the ballot this year. We have enough legislators to move it forward if Senate President Steve Sweeney will post the bill. "We understand Senator Sweeney's concerns about presenting a ballot question in an off-year election year [2015], but we'd get swallowed up in a Presidential election year [2016]," Luchento added. "And this is not only about bigger purses. This is funding for seniors, students, the Atlantic City casinos, farmers, inner city parks. So there is a lot to explain to people." "This is not a fight between North and South Jersey," Gural told journalists and other guests at the media event. "The reality is that the competition is already there [for Atlantic City] from New York and Pennsylvania. We're 15 minutes - when it isn't rush hour -- from Times Square. I'm even more optimistic. I think we can generate $500 million a year for the state." Gural proposes to give the state 55 percent of revenues, the same arrangement as Pennsylvania and its casinos. "We're the No. 1 harness track in the world, but we have a real struggle to get people to race here," Gural noted. "We need to help the purses here and at Monmouth Park. We run a very clean operation. The people running horses here are the cream of the crop. "Saving the horse racing industry is just as important as saving Atlantic City," he added. Among the legislators attending were State Senators Raymond J. Lesniak, Paul A. Sarlo, Robert Gordon and Loretta Weinberg as well as Assembly Members Ralph R. Caputo, Marlene Caride, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Vincent Prieto. "We have a lot to do with my colleagues," Sarlo said. "We'll get there as a group. We'll get to what we need to do to get this built. We can't wait two years. I'd like to get it up in six weeks if it was possible. But we'll work together. I promise to work with my colleagues to get this done." Two of the various issues are whether the referendum question for expanding casino wagering outside Atlantic City - public support is needed for a constitutional amendment - should be on this November's ballot or addressed in next year's; and whether there should be two or three licenses available in Bergen, Hudson and Essex Counties. As Hard Rock's Allen said, "This project [at the Meadowlands] as the ability to move ahead immediately. There are no financial contingencies." Hard Rock proposes a Phase 1 renovation, using areas of the existing Meadowlands grandstand, which opened two years ago. Phase 2 would entail additional casino construction. By Carol Hodes for the SBOANJ

East Rutherford, NJ --- Hard Rock International, owner of one of the world’s most iconic and recognized brands, announced today its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands in New Jersey the home of harness racing. The proposed entertainment destination would be ideally situated in northern New Jersey and is projected to generate $400 million of new tax revenues a year. “With its close proximity to an international airport, the new casino would be designed to attract visitors from not only the 14 million adults in northern New Jersey and New York City, but also international travelers, making it a premier entertainment destination,” said Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International. “The significant tax revenue brought into New Jersey could go directly to aid in the development and reconstruction of Atlantic City’s casino and hotel industry.” Reports show a casino in northern New Jersey would help draw visitors from other states, creating competition with New York and Pennsylvania, who have taken more than $13 billion in revenue from New Jersey in the past eight years since they’ve expanded their gaming options. “We’re thrilled to bring this great offering to the New Meadowlands Racetrack,” said Jeff Gural, Chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC. “With its expertise in gaming, hotels, restaurants, live events, entertainment, and retail offerings, Hard Rock International is the ideal partner for New Meadowlands Racetrack; bringing the globally recognized brand to the racetrack elevates excitement surrounding the project.” The Hard Rock Casino will feature 5,000 slot machines and 200 gaming tables. The project will also feature ten restaurants and four bars; a multi-purpose Hard Rock Live showroom; New Jersey Music Hall of Fame; and “The Vault,” a music memorabilia museum expertly curated by Hard Rock -- owners of the world’s largest music memorabilia collection. The entertainment destination will also offer retail shops and a six-story parking garage conveniently located just steps away from the casino grounds. Gural reiterated his continuing commitment to harness racing as part of the future Hard Rock plans. “I’m a horse guy and that’s what brought me here,” he said. “In my heart, this is good for the state of New Jersey. We are dedicated to making this work for the entire state of New Jersey, we certainly would offer jobs to people who lost their jobs in Atlantic City.” He also cited the importance of the 13,000 New Jersey citizens who make their living in the equine business, and specifically about half of those who make their living through horse racing. Gural expressed his optimism that the annual tax revenue to the state would exceed Hard Rock’s $400 million projections, especially in the first few years when other New Jersey competition may be limited initially. Attendance was heavy from dozens of state political leaders, business executives and union representatives, who support the proposed plan and the jobs and economic engine it would provide for the region. State Senator Paul Sarlo acknowledged the political challenges at hand and pledged to “balance competing interests with all our colleagues.” Central to the proposal, and delineated on a graphic presentation shown to attendees, is a “minimum $300 billion investment in Atlantic City (infrastructure) via tax exempt bonds.” Estimates call for creation of about 2,360 construction jobs and 5,000 ongoing jobs. In a question and answer session at the close of prepared presentations, the issue of overcoming the constitutional amendment that states that no casinos are allowed to operate outside Atlantic City was addressed. Current legislative action is focused on an enabling referendum that would amend the constitution to allow for casinos outside Atlantic City, which is located about 125 miles south of The Meadowlands. At present, there is no consensus among political leaders on whether the referendum should run this fall, when there will likely be lower turnout than expected in the presidential election in 2016, or to run it next fall, when turnout will be higher, but costs to reach voters to educate them about the issue will be more expensive. Both Allen and Gural favor a 2015 referendum and believe that with voter approval, they could have the first phase of the project ready in the summer or early fall of 2016. Gural said research on the possible referendum indicates the measure would be well received this fall and that costs to educate voters on the issue would be in the range of $10 to 20 million. Also at issue is the question of how many casinos will be allowed, with some lawmakers favoring one, and some up to three, with consideration also given to Monmouth Park, a Thoroughbred track along the New Jersey shore. by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications 

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