Atlantic City Race Course could see more than $1 million through a proposal approved Monday by a legislative wagering committee despite opposition from North Jersey interests.
The bill would restructure the distribution of the Casino Simulcast Fund, which for years has primarily benefited larger North Jersey racetracks.
Under the proposal, the New Jersey Racing Commission would distribute 90 percent of the annual funds to the Atlantic City Race Course while the remaining 10 percent would be divided between the Freehold Raceway and the Monmouth Park Racetrack. Several other horse racing organizations, including the Meadowlands Racetrack, that had benefited previously would no longer see funding.
The Casino Simulcast Fund was set up in the 1990s when Atlantic City casinos began carrying simulcast horse racing. The fund was intended to offset the loss of simulcast business at racetracks. In previous years, the Atlantic City Race Course has seen between 4 percent and 7 percent of the fund. Last year the fund totaled $1.2 million.
State Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, Gloucester, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that the funding will revitalize the Atlantic City Race Course, located in Mays Landing, and will hopefully increase the number of races at the site, which currently has six days of racing each year.
Others, however, said moving the funding to Atlantic City Race Course will only hurt North Jersey facilities that are also struggling.
“We understand there’s a lot of interest in this bill, but unfortunately, this is really just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said A.J. Sabath, who appeared before the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee on behalf of the newly opened Meadowlands Racetrack.
Dennis Drazin, an adviser to the operators of Monmouth Park, which stables Atlantic City’s horses, said at a minimum the funding should come with expectations. He suggested including provisions that would require Atlantic City Race Course to stable and train its own horses within three years after making capital improvements.
Alternatively, he suggested requiring the race course to add a specified number of racing days in exchange for the funding. As written, the bill requires 75 percent of the funding received to go to capital improvements with the other 25 percent in flux.
A similar proposal to shift the simulcast funding that was floated in 2011 passed the Senate but never saw action in the Assembly.
Atlantic City Race Course President Maureen Bugdon declined to comment and referred questions to Joe Wilson, chief operating officer of Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns the Mays Landing property.
Wilson could not immediately be reached.
A separate bill approved by the committee Monday would allow New Jersey to offer instant racing through terminals at racetracks, off-track wagering facilities and casino simulcasting facilities.
Instant racing, which has been used as a tool to revitalize the struggling horse racing industry in other states, allows people to bet on pre-recorded races through video terminals. The terminals select a race at random and remove any identifying information from the horses and jockeys.
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