The future of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the Meadowlands racetrack, and harness racing in New Jersey was discussed by legislators, labor leaders, and racing supporters during five hours of testimony during the second New Jersey Legislative Gaming Summit on Friday at the Meadowlands.
The second Summit was held in the Pegasus dining area of the racetrack and when it began at about 10:30 a.m., a crowd of about 400 was in attendance. This time many union workers who have been employed at the Meadowlands over the years were in attendance to support the track. Meadowlands employees, including assistant vice president of racing, development and distribution Alex Dadoyan and director of racing Peter Koch, were among those in attendance.
The tone of this summit was the same as the first: New Jersey needs to find ways to keep its horse racing industry viable. Slots or video lottery terminals at the Meadowlands was still not completely embraced, but Dennis Robinson, CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), and Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, both testified that planning is taking place for a 100-day harness meet in 2011 offering the highest purses in the sport. This year's championship meet, which concluded Friday, Aug. 20, consisted of 121 days of racing.
“We propose to follow the model of Monmouth Park’s elite meet and trim the Meadowlands racing schedule to 100 dates with purse money that will lead our industry,” stated Luchento.
The SBOA of New Jersey sees trimming the dates to pay top purses as a “bridge to a more permanent solution” that would include a long-term lease or purchase agreement of the racetrack, and expanded gaming.
The meeting began with testimony from Robinson, who mostly focused on the need for the NJSEA to “reinvest” and leverage its brand, much like Disney. Also, when asked for his opinion from a legislator about racinos, Robinson observed that selling a bet at the racetrack is much like selling a bet at a casino, and that right now the racetracks are prevented from diversifying because they only have horse racing for a product line.
Robinson also noted that the NJSEA had become a project manager of sorts for the state and its efforts had benefitted other areas besides northern New Jersey. He spoke of creating the financing package for the construction of the Atlantic City Convention Center—where the first Summit was held—and said, “Part of my blood is spilled there in the convention center and the Boardwalk Hall.” He also stated that the NJSEA’s debt as of July 1 was about $735 million, with about $315 million of that related to the Atlantic City Convention Center project.
Although the audience had to only look left to see the Meadowlands racing oval, no one mentioned harness racing specifically until labor leaders—those representing union workers—began their testimony.
The Hanson report which was delivered in late July and recommended closing the Meadowlands racetrack and letting the horse racing industry find its own means of survival, was attacked first by Thomas Misciagna from the Bergen County Building & Construction Trades Council. The Hanson report, he said, showed “no love for this facility at all; no feelings. What was the purpose of this report? It just dashed all of our hopes.”
Robert Liguori, head of Sports Arena Employees Local 137, was the first of those who testified to mention the Hambletonian, and he also added that New Jersey has the number one harness track in North America. (harnessracing.com)