Remember the good old days of horse racing, when the exceptional turf at Atlantic City Race Course would draw top horses and fans for leisurely days of open-air gambling? Don’t bother, they’re gone and not coming back.
Playing the ponies mostly has been reduced, like so much else in modern life, to a screen-watching activity. At least it’s done in a somewhat social, public setting, at off-track betting parlors authorized by the state in 2001.
There are 10 such locations around the state. The Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant in Egg Harbor Township wants to become the 11th. The factors in favor of it look so overwhelming that if the N.J. Racing Commission doesn’t approve the application, the claims by some that these deals are arranged behind the scenes will look more credible.
The commission came to the township’s courtroom late last month just to hear from the municipality and the public about the prospect of an off-track-betting facility in the English Creek Shopping Center. It got an earful — all positive. The deputy mayor, representing the township, spoke in favor. So did a township councilman. So did a local union leader.
Racing commission members must have thought they should come to South Jersey more often. A year and a half ago, their hearing on a proposed OTB proposal for Hillsborough, in Somerset County, was just the opposite — an outpouring of opposition. The mayor and township objected to it, the local assemblyman said it didn’t belong in Hillsborough, and even the commission admitted 1,365 residents didn’t want it. They complained that the betting parlor would bring crime, traffic, noise and parking problems to the community.
Some testified it seemed to be a done deal before the hearing, since the applicant already had put $3.5 million into renovating the parlor property. The commission unanimously approved the project.
We can’t speak for Hillsborough, but the concerns there don’t seem to apply in Egg Harbor Township.
Parking in the shopping center is plentiful, and two major roads serve it. The punters would have to be entertained by ear-bleeding metal bands for noise to matter. And a review of the newspaper’s archives on the applicant’s OTB facility in Vineland found no stories connecting it to a crime. Besides, the state law enabling off-track betting expressly allows it in commercial and industrial zones.
Most of the other OTB locations are also sports bars and pubs, so combining a parlor with the Chickie’s & Pete’s would be similar.
We think offering off-track betting in Egg Harbor Township is fine if the business and the township want it.
In Hillsborough, people thought a backroom deal must have ensured the approval. In Egg Harbor Township everything’s reversed, and rejection by the racing commission when it meets in May might be seen as evidence the applicants failed to get the closed-door deal done.