State lawmakers in both houses have moved urgently to shrink the year's racing season at state-run racetracks.
Members of the Senate and the Assembly both voted unanimously to reduce thoroughbred race-dates at the Meadowlands racetrack to zero and to cut in half the number of race days this season at the other state-run track, Monmouth Park.
The move creates a season this year that will feature a shorter meet but with purse prizes of $1 million every race-day.
The change, dubbed by horsemen's groups as "an experiment," may also benefit the local Atlantic City Race Course, by giving the track a window to expand its number of race days in the fall.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, proposed the measure in the Assembly, while representatives from the districts in Northern New Jersey sponsored a matching bill in the Senate. Both sides called the measure "urgent," given the start of the new season at Monmouth Park next Saturday.
"Gov. (Chris) Christie's transition team projected that the Meadowlands and Monmouth would lose $22 million combined in 2010, a loss that would be difficult to justify for taxpayers and the industry alike given our state's fiscal crisis," Burzichelli said.
Representatives from Atlantic City Race Course could not be reached Thursday night.
Last week, Maureen G. Bugdon, president of the race course, confirmed that the track's managing company, the Pennsylvania-based Greenwood Racing, would consider increasing its race days, but only if the company could find additional funds.
The race course currently runs an annual six-day meet in the spring.
"At a time when New Jersey horsemen are losing about 70 days of racing, ACRC could pick up the slack and race approximately 1,000 more horses for very little money, making this a great return on investment," Bugdon said last week. " This should be a logical part of any "experiment" and a way to take advantage of ACRC's popularity and success."
Assembly Republicans who supported the bill, including Assemblyman Vincent Polistina, R-Atlantic, confirmed the plan also has the backing of Bob Mulcahy, a member of Christie's commission that is working to fix New Jersey's gaming, sports and entertainment industries.
The bill also:
* Authorizes the Standardbred Breeders' and Owners' Association of New Jersey to grant $3 million to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, or NJSEA, to promote the Meadowlands and Monmouth race tracks.
* Authorizes the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, or NJTHA, to lend as much as $2 million to the NJSEA or use as purse money at Monmouth in 2010.
* Directs the NJSEA to distribute any unused purse money available on Nov. 21, 2010, for programs to aid New Jersey thoroughbred horsemen during 2011.
* Authorizes the NJSEA to use $2.27 million from 2009 purse underpay for the meet at Monmouth from Sept. 11 to Nov. 21 this year.
* Allows the NJSEA to use $2.25 million to increase purses payable to New Jersey-bred foals finishing first, second or third in open races by 20 percent, but not more than $20,000 per horse per race.
* Authorizes the New Jersey Horse Racing Injury Compensation Board to use $2 million in surplus funds to make a loan this year to the NJTHA, with $1.5 million used to pay breeders' awards from 2008 and 2009 that remain unpaid and $500,000 used to pay awards to breeders and owners of New Jersey-bred horses who earn purses at out-of-state tracks after the end of New Jersey's 2010 season and before the start of the 2011 season.
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