Pressure mounts for Meadowlands VLTs

Jun 12, 2007 5:30 AM

Atlantic City casinos are already feeling the impact of expanded competition from Pennsylvania but now they may have to brace themselves for more problems from the northern part of the state.

It probably depends on just how much political clout the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority can muster.

Their problem is the Meadowlands racetrack. At year end, a deal that has AC casinos doling out annual stipends to bolster racetrack purses, in order to keep the track from installing slot machines, comes to an end.

And, that really has sports authority members and track officials worried.

They already are feeling the competition from nearby Yonkers Raceway where the Rooney family owned harness track has benefited greatly from revenues generated by thousands of video lottery machines.

As one commission member put it: "If the horsemen don’t know months in advance what will happen in January, they’ll make plans to go elsewhere. Even if we miraculously on Christmas Eve said we’ve extended the casino subsidy deal, we still won’t have the horses. The time to make this deal is now."

The fingers were pointed right at Gov. Jon Corzine and his administration that has shown what the commission perceives as a lack of leadership.

"This has got to come out of the governor’s office," a senior member of the commission was quoted as saying.

"The honest answer," said authority president George Zoffinger at last week’s meeting, "is that business is bad, and if we don’t have slots, we’re not going to have the purses we need. The horses and the owners will follow the purses. That’s not rocket science."

The group said that since Yonkers became a "racino" thousands of customers have been ignoring racing at the Meadowlands in favor of the New York track.

Senate President Richard Codey, who sat in for Gov. Corzine following the recent auto accident in which the governor was nearly killed, has been a strong advocate of installing slots at the state’s horse tracks. His brother, Donald Codey, is general manager of Freehold Raceway.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, another proponent of Meadowlands slots said he "welcomed" the board’s sentiments.

"If the governor’s office and certain members of the legislature don’t realize what’s happening, we’ll be out of the racing business very shortly," he was quoted as saying.