The Garden State Park, shown in 2003, is one of five current or former race tracks that qualify to hold sports betting, but a contract in 1999 prohibits ‘wagering activities ... of any sort.’

CAMDEN — A New Jersey developer seeking to build a sports betting parlor on the site of a former racetrack has lost the latest round in its court battle with the track’s former operators.

In an opinion published this week, a federal judge said the companies associated with the former operators of Garden State Park likely can prove that a 1999 document gives them exclusive rights to offer wagering at the Cherry Hill facility.

At stake is a piece of a multibillion-dollar sports betting market. Since New Jersey led the effort to strike down a federal ban last year, in-state bettors have wagered more than $3 billion, helping the state challenge Nevada for the nationwide lead.

Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners, which now owns the property and has developed it as a retail and residential center, claims in a lawsuit filed last year that the 1999 document isn’t enforceable. The company has said in court filings it plans to apply for a sports gambling license from the state and has already begun to build a facility to hold a sportsbook.

The last horse races at Garden State Park were held in 2001. Under New Jersey law signed last year, current and former racetracks can offer sports gambling. Outside of Atlantic City’s casinos, Garden State Park is one of only five locations that qualify, along with Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands, Freehold Raceway and the former Atlantic City racetrack. Monmouth and the Meadowlands currently offer sports betting.

The restrictive covenant signed in 1999 prohibits wagering activities of any kind by any party other than former track operator GS Park Racing and its successors. Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners has argued in court filings that the document doesn’t hold up because it couldn’t have envisioned sports gambling, which was illegal at the time.

In her opinion published Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb disagreed, writing that the document is “unambiguous and not overly broad.”

“The covenant can only mean exactly what it says,” Bumb wrote. “’Wagering activities ... of any sort’ must include sports wagering, because sports wagering is a ‘sort’ of wagering.”

The parties have a conference call scheduled for Sept. 27. An attorney representing the developer didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Friday.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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