Legislation to boost New Jersey's horse racing industry by allowing wagering in taverns and restaurants was unanimously approved Monday by the full Assembly. The bill directs the New Jersey Racing Commission to implement a pilot program for taverns, restaurants and similar establishments in the northern part of the state to provide electronic wagering terminals (A-4285). It's sponsored by Burzichelli, Caputo (D-Essex) and Wagner (D-Bergen).

"These are key pieces in our ongoing effort to ensure New Jersey's horse racing industry remains a strong and viable economic engine and entertainment attraction," Burzichelli said. "These bills modernize the industry and make it easier for racing fans to place wagers while also boosting our restaurant industry. It's a true win-win and a common sense approach to today's consumer demands and desires for convenience and ease of access."

"The costs of creating a full-service off-track-wagering facility have proven too high a barrier to entry for us to see success, so allowing bar and restaurant owners to fill the void makes sense," said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). "With new operating deals in place that will give new life to the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, we need to make sure that horseracing has a viable future in New Jersey. Expanding OTW opportunities is an absolutely necessary part of that future."

The cost of setting up a full-service OTW facility has been cited to be in the millions of dollars. Conversely, an established bar seeking to install electronic betting terminals could need to invest upwards of $25,000.

"We need to give horseracing every opportunity to succeed," said Sweeney. "And part of that success lies in making it easier for both diehard and casual racing fans to follow the action."

"It's 2012 now," Caputo said. "Let's accept that reality and do everything we can to ensure New Jersey's racing industry isn't stuck in the stone ages. A responsible pilot program to allow for wagering in taverns and restaurants will undoubtedly prove successful and serve as a potential boon for our racing industry. Let's get it done."

"We need to stay on top of the changing times and make certain our horse racing industry, so pivotal to our economic success, does the same," Wagner said. "A responsible, well-regulated system that encourages people to enjoy horse racing in taverns and restaurants is a smart approach that can only help boost our economy. I'm confident this will prove a success."

Under the bill, the New Jersey Racing Commission would implement a pilot program to license a limited number of eligible taverns, restaurants and similar venues where food, alcoholic beverages - or both - are served to the public for on-premises consumption, in the northern part of the state to provide patrons with the ability to place wagers on horse races through electronic wagering terminals. The terminals would be subject to the commission's regulation and control.

Each license issued under the pilot program would be temporary, subject to review and renewal on an annual basis, and would expire within three years of issuance of each initial license.

The bill limits the pilot program to eligible venues in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic, Union, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties and northern Middlesex and Ocean counties.

Finally, the bill directs the commission to issue a report to the governor and to the Legislature within three years of the issuance of the first license under the pilot program. The report would contain an evaluation of the pilot program, provide the commission's opinion as to whether the pilot program should be continued and, if so, recommendations for further improvement and implementation.

The pilot program would end upon the expiration of the last license issued under the program unless the Legislature enacts a law to continue the program.