The Hall Institute of Public Policy--New Jersey, which addresses issues in the state, is carrying a commentary by Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey on its website.
Luchento's commentary can also be read below:
THE MANY FACES OF HORSE RACING
By Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey
December 1, 2010
Those of us in the horse racing industry in New Jersey are in a battle for survival in an economy that has not been kind to many financial sectors.
The hardworking people of racing, more than 15,000 in the state of New Jersey, love what they do despite dealing with the aches and pains of wrestling 1,000-pound horses who require care every day of the year, whether a holiday, blizzard or searing heat.
Much like Broadway actors performing whether the house is full or the seats are empty, the show must go on.
And therein lies the rub – horse racing is many things to many different people and difficult to pigeonhole.
It is an agricultural pursuit for those who breed and raise horses as well as those who grow the hay and grain they eat. It is the latest and greatest in veterinary medicine and surgery for their doctors. It is a sport for those who train and drive these equine athletes. And it is entertainment and gambling for those who follow them.
Yet those who do not understand racing seem to ignore all these lives, all these jobs and all these passions that are intertwined with the future of the Garden State.
More than 20 percent of New Jersey’s rapidly diminishing open space in agriculture is equine related. Horse racing represents a $4 billion industry, one of the largest in the state. Yet there are those in decision-making rolls in the New Jersey who are not seeing the big picture of what would be lost if the racing and breeding industries were not given a chance at not only subsistence survival but of rebuilding and thriving.
There is no need to look further than the states on New Jersey’s borders which have seen the wisdom of combining racing and alternate gaming. They have reaped the bounty of not only infusing health back into their racing and breeding industries but also collecting the cash needed to fill the breech in their budgets.
So what are we to think of those who narrowly address racing’s future with the “small bone” of a stripped down racing schedule and push to have the standardbred and thoroughbred communities share Monmouth Park, as is the suggestion of the Hanson Commission?
It is clear they have no concept of how gambling on horses works, nor the facilities and care the horses need nor the dynamics of campaigning horses. We cannot park these animals on the side of the road and wait for a 30-day meet or a six-day “fair” at the Meadowlands.
Jon Hanson and his fellow commission members were assigned to find ways to resurrect the sports, gaming and entertainment industries in New Jersey. Instead, they seem intent on dismantling them, most especially harness racing which has, for the last 35 years, considered the Meadowlands its flagship racetrack – not just in New Jersey but in North America.
For more than three decades, the Meadowlands Racetrack also served as the cash register of the Sports Complex, paying off the debt service for the track, arena and stadium. It also allowed the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority to take on construction projects in other parts of the state.
The Sports Complex uniquely was built without taxpayer dollars and helped to bring world-class events to New Jersey, which suffered from a negative identity crisis. All of the use, some would say misuse, of the hundreds of millions of dollars churned by bettors at the Meadowlands to enhance the state seems to be forgotten in the current discourse.
Some of us may be farmers, but we are not unaware of the hard political and economic decisions that need to be made.
Nothing, however, explains why New Jersey sits on the sideline and resists putting slots into the Meadowlands, easily the most ideal location in the country, only eight miles from Manhattan. Perhaps this lack of action is based on greed, a plan to “wait us out” and build a grand casino without racing participating or benefiting from alternate gaming as is the case in other states.
Meanwhile, New Jerseyans are crossing borders into New York and Pennsylvania and leaving their gaming dollars behind to benefit those treasuries.
While not everyone may want to bet on horses – the activity that has traditionally fueled the industry – many will include horse racing as one of their gaming choices if it is presented as part of a full menu of options. This is a realistic 21st century business model that could easily be adopted along with improvements in technology that permit us to put on a better show.
Interest in racing may wax and wane, but there will always be people in love with the beauty of horses in competition and intrigued by the challenge of handicapping them.
Horse racing, like other forms of entertainment, has fans who may not appear at the hosting venue but are still engaged with the product. They can watch and wager at Off Track Wagering facilities or through phone and internet betting accounts.
And they do attend in large numbers for major events like the Hambletonian, Meadowlands Pace, Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup and Breeders Crown.
When they are given more gaming options at the Meadowlands, racing will be on a “tasting menu” that will please more and more “palates.”
This is not the time to abandon the many faces of the racing and breeding industries in New Jersey, which at one time took great pride that its state animal was the horse.
We would suggest that slots at the Meadowlands are a superior solution to the state’s economic and image problems rather than being known as the home of Snooky and the Sopranos.