$100M in taxpayer funds to New Jersey horse tracks? You bet
Months after New Jersey instituted sports betting, in part with the promise of reviving its horse racing industry, the Legislature is moving to provide $100 million in state funding to those tracks to increase the purses paid to race winners.
A bill recently approved in a 40-0 vote in the Senate proposes sending $20 million a year for five years, starting in 2019, to the New Jersey Racing Commission for purse subsidies. It now awaits a vote in the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, which meets on Jan. 17.
A.J. Sabath, a lobbyist for the Standardbred Breeders and Owners of New Jersey, said sports betting parlors have helped the Monmouth Park and Meadowlands tracks but that a little extra adrenaline is needed.
“The theory was at the time that if there’s sports betting at the race tracks that that will trickle down and help support horse racing. And so this is a little added insurance that that will occur,” Sabath said.
The bill, S2992/A4810, also requires tracks to reach agreements with horsemen associations on sharing profits from sports betting.
Chris McErlean, president of the company that owns Freehold Raceway, said that change “threw a lot of cold water” on Freehold’s talks with vendors to open a sports betting parlor at its track.
“We think they’re basically a solution looking for a problem. We don’t think that they’re necessary in the current state,” McErlean said.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, the requirement only says that there has to be a written agreement and doesn’t specify the financial details – or even require money to be part of the understanding.
“Not that we’re stipulating what the agreement is, but on the sports betting piece, to ensure some of those revenues do help the horsemen and the breeders and the horse farms,” Sarlo said.
Horse racing has been struggling for a while, and those challenges were made tougher in 2011 when then-Gov. Chris Christie ended a subsidy to the tracks from Atlantic City casinos.
“The horse racing industry has had a long road to recovery,” Sabath said.
Half the money would go to thoroughbred races at Monmouth Park. The standardbred subsides are more complicated but includes 60 percent going to Meadowlands purses and 16 percent to Freehold Raceway.