Could the Meadowlands racetrack close up shop? Heaven forbid!

September 11, 2007 5:13 AM
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There are some words you never expect to hear in the same sentence, and I heard two of them last week.

"Doomed" and "the Meadowlands" do not normally fit in the same sentence, but the man who runs racing at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Dennis Dowd, spoke them to a subcommittee in the hope its members might convince New Jersey governor Jon Corzine to use his weight to break the grip Atlantic City’s casinos have on slots in the Garden State.

Dowd said that if the present $80 million subsidy paid by the beach casinos is not renewed and enlarged when it expires at the end of December, or if the tracks don’t get slots, "racing in New Jersey wouldn’t last three years."

It is not likely that the A.C. casinos, down for the first time in their 19-year history, will greet an extension with open arms. But it is not inconceivable. With a proper split of proceeds for them and the tracks, there could be action.

A Corzine spokesman, Brenan Dilfillan, said, "The governor has been and remains committed to make horse racing a competitive and exciting industry in New Jersey. He recognizes the need to stabilize the financial competitiveness of the state’s racetracks, and we are working expeditiously to develop a multidimensional solution to this problem.

New Jersey and its big dual breed track, the Meadowlands, home to runners and this country’s best harness racing meeting; and its’ seaside beauty Monmouth Park where this year’s Breeders’ Cup thoroughbred events will be raced, are in the direct path of two tornados.

Aqueduct will have slots in another year or two, and Pennsylvania already has them. The Meadows, the harness track whose gaming is controlled by Cannery Casino, also spoke to a legislative committee last week through its top man, Bill Paulos. He told a Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee that despite the fact that The Meadows recorded $52 million in revenue in its first 81 days, the advent of table games at tracks in nearby West Virginia meant that Pennsylvanians would soon leave the state again to gamble elsewhere.

Shortly after Paulos spoke, a state representative, Bill DeWeese, discussed a bill he co-authored that would permit blackjack and craps at the 14 slot parlors in Pennsylvania, some still merely on paper. DeWeese said his bill is not on a fast track, and added, "Nor should it be." He said he expects much debate. But he felt table games could "drastically slash" school property taxes.

New Jersey’s troubles go farther. The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission resolved the conflict between Centaur Inc. of Indianapolis and Carmen Shick’s Bedford Downs — the two warring groups seeking the state’s last harness racing license, and thus its last racino — with a Solomonic solution.

The commission awarded the license to Centaur, following an agreement in which Shick will sell Centaur his desirable property where he planned to build Bedford Downs. Instead of operating the track and racino, Shick will develop hotels and shops on the grounds, but will not participate in the gaming operation.

The commission earlier had denied Centaur a license for its Valley View Downs because it did not like the site. It did like Bedford Downs’ site but did not like some ancient family history. So Valley View takes over Bedford Downs’ site, and they live happily ever after.