Racing Industry Heard Loud And Clear At Second New Jersey Gaming Summit Session

Published: September 10, 2010 11:02 am EDT

The second of the State of New Jersey's Summit on Gaming sessions wrapped up Friday afternoon at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. Many speakers representing various interests stepped up and made their

voices heard.

“The notion that this is a north/south split, or the notion that this is the casino industry versus the horse racing industry or the gambling industry versus Xanadu is not what we’re about today,” state Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) said. “If we do this right… we will find a way to save and strengthen the horse racing industry, find a way to save and strengthen the casino industry, and at the same time find a way to get Xanadu finished.”

A strong pro-horse racing crowd helped fill the Meadowlands' Pegasus Restaurant.

“The Hanson report, because it was incomplete, made it into a north/south thing. And to the credit of our senate president, Stephen Sweeney, he brought us under one banner,” said state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), who also said that much of the debt horse racing operator New Jersey Sports and Entertainment Authority has incurred has been from projects in Atlantic City.

For more information on the summit session, click here and here.

Also, the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey today released a video presented at the Summit and the transcript of its president, Tom Luchento's, second session address.

Luchento's words appear below.

We are sitting in the Pegasus Dining Room which for many years was New Jersey’s answer to Windows on the World, offering fine dining, a million-dollar view and great racing entertainment.

My name is Tom Luchento and for three decades I was a horseman, sitting in the sulky, racing horses here as an owner, driver and trainer. I’ve put away my racing colours and now come before you as president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. I am honoured to represent the drivers, trainers, owners, breeders, caretakers and all the thousands of people who make up the standardbred racing community in New Jersey.

And we are a community. We are taxpaying citizens who have planted our roots in New Jersey, many investing in farmland, keeping the green in the Garden State. Our corporate headquarters are not in other states but here in New Jersey where we shop in the stores, barbecue with our neighbors, educate our children, pay our taxes and pay tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike as we bring our horses to race at the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway.

For a longtime, all roads would lead horsemen to the Meadowlands. It offered not only the richest purses in our industry but also the most spectacular facility, with a barn area and racing surface second to none.

Now we are experiencing an exodus of horsemen that endangers the future of racing in New Jersey and will lead to the sale of our horse farms and their development into housing and malls, a loss of 20 per cent of agricultural acreage in this state. When the farms and training centers shutdown, when our horsemen leave for the slots-enhanced purses available to them in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the migration will also include veterinarians, blacksmiths, tack shops, hay and grain growers and all the others that make up layers of support people.

The Meadowlands draws international travellers who come here to see the best in harness racing. While harness racing does not match the public interest for baseball or football in the United States, standardbred racing is a major sport in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. We are a magnet for their top horses, horsemen and wagering. Just last month on Hambletonian Day here, $2.4 million of the $8.4 million wagered that day came from European countries.

The Hanson Report, which this committee has rightly questioned, fails to recognize the importance of horse racing as a component in this state’s valuable agri-business.

The Hanson Report ignores all the money that the Meadowlands Racetrack has contributed to the state’s economy for nearly 35 years. The Sports Complex was built on the back of the track, based on its ability to be the cash register to pay for its financing. The Complex was unique in its construction without a dollar from the state treasury or from taxpayers.

Year after year those of us in racing watched millions of dollars that we helped to earn be spent on not only the Arena and Stadium here but also for the more far reaching projects that the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority was asked to take on, including Atlantic City’s Convention Center.

Our alternate gaming proposals have never been about hurting Atlantic City. We have suggested that the casino owners have the chance to benefit from slots at the Meadowlands as operators and with the cross-promotional opportunities that will help their revival as a destination resort.

Where once there was an argument that slots at the Meadowlands would hurt Atlantic City, it does not seem possible that this carries any weight now. The landscape has changed. The casino operators should look to themselves – their enemy is not a gaming facility three hours away from Atlantic City but the casinos and racinos which have already opened an hour away, including those built by their own members.

Atlantic City’s leadership and the casino operators themselves, cannot seriously believe that the harm has not already taken place. All that they will accomplish by denying the slots to the Meadowlands is that North Jersey gamblers will go to Yonkers and soon go to Aqueduct as well, losing more revenue for the state of New Jersey.

The people in racing have not been a burden on the state. They have contributed in so many ways. The state stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if racing is cast aside.

Our proposal to install slot machines at the Meadowlands represents a valuable asset to New Jersey. At the same time that state government is slashing social services in an effort to balance its budget, we are saying to the legislature that there is a mechanism to help the schools, senior citizens, the homeless, developmentally disabled, open space projects and lower property taxes. Nothing would please us more.

I’d also like to tackle another misconception that has been perpetrated. The casino industry has not been supplementing racing. The casino industry has been, to put it in our parlance, horse trading for the past several years. They paid us to make up the difference of what we were losing by not installing slot machines at the tracks. It bought them time during which they should have been preparing to reinvent themselves as a gaming destination.

I might also add that while our last agreement was for three years, the state awarded the casinos with a lifetime tax abatement on what they give away in perks. So do not be fooled by their generosity to racing. They were richly rewarded and continue to be the beneficiaries of this arrangement.

Without dissecting the Hanson Report here, it offered four suggestions for the future of racing. Three are recipes for failure and the fourth is something that we are seriously exploring – privatization. We have interested buyers but progress in that area is based on our ability to structure a long-term lease or purchase which currently is not on the table.

To move on to the next step, we need to work with the legislature to create a plan to provide a bridge to a more permanent solution that permits a long-term lease or purchase agreement.

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.

We propose that the Meadowlands evolve into a gaming facility with racing among the many offerings. This is not only about making horse racing solvent – it is about a dramatic flow of funds for the state treasury, upward of a billion dollars a year.

So while this plays out in the media as dispute between legislators, as a battle between north and south, as a conflict between casinos and racetracks -- the loser is the state of New Jersey.

I thank the committee members for their time and attention.

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