By: Elizabeth Rancani
A racetrack is a piece of history, especially one that was built in 1870. A walk through the doors of Monmouth Park and one cannot help but notice the photographs featuring champions of years past lining the walls, and ceilings. It takes one back to a long gone era where horse racing thrived. Monmouth attracted greats including Kelso, Ruffian, Bold Ruler, John Henry, Cozzene, Holy Bull, Alysheba, Carry Back and Spectacular Bid.
Still, today Monmouth isn’t some run down track that runs claimers day in and day out. Monmouth still has its share of stars that fill their stables.The reigning Horse of the Year just ran there and the Haskell should be one of the main battlegrounds for deciding the top three year old this year. The 2007 Breeders Cup hosted the likes of Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense.
Now Governor Chris Christie plans to end the subsidy that Monmouth depends on, and still, will not approve slots at the track. If the failing Atlantic City casino industry is to hold a monopoly on slots and table games in the state, then why should they not have to continue to subsidize the racetracks? The fact that racing needs slots to thrive, is another matter, and racing should be very concerned about that fact. However, today’s market is not the same as years long gone. People have options now as to where they gamble. They can go to a racetrack, or a casino, or a combination of the two sometimes referred to as a racino. Racinos are the ‘in thing’ and the formula works; just ask any state but New Jersey. Their very existence is the bane of Atlantic City casinos.
A recent quote from the governor claims that Atlantic City should not have to subsidize failures. And according to NJSEA commissioner Armando Fontouro, New Jersey’s racing tracks are bleeding money. “It’s time to cut our losses. You can’t look at any crystal ball, and see in any shape or form they are going to be profitable again.” They live in a world where Atlantic City can be saved, but New Jersey’s horse racing industry can not. The fact is both New Jersey’s horse racing industry and their beloved Atlantic City casinos are failing. Where Monmouth Park has a $13 million dollar deficit this year alone, the casino town has lost over a billion in the past four years. Atlantic City is never going to be the shore town that families with children under the age of 21 pick to spend their summer vacation. Ocean City is twenty minutes over the bridge, and you can let your children walk the boards at night alone over there. You don’t have bums and the poverty stricken begging for hand outs in front of the casinos. You don’t have drug dealers standing on their corners. At best they can hope the blue haired ladies continue to board the buses, despite concerns for their safety, and that singles will want to flock there much the same way they flock to Las Vegas. Trips to Las Vegas are cheap, however, and the New Jersey winters still may deter people for half the year, and really what else is there to do in Atlantic City in December? Neighboring shore towns are practically ghost towns after September and million dollar homes sit vacant until the following May. At least in Las Vegas you have Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead and Mount Charleston. Yes, you have the beach and the ocean in Atlantic City, but there is endless competition from area shore towns, and if it is the beach and boards you crave, Atlantic City will lose out to every one of those other towns.
New Jersey’s history has not been very kind to the racing industry. Twenty years after Monmouth opened, the state decided to ban wagering throughout the state. The track closed until 1946, and stayed fairly profitable. Even as recently as 2001, the track recorded its highest attendance ever, and its current abbreviated meet schedule, has been doing very well. Attendance and take are up, race cards are full, and the quality of the horses cannot be disputed. The 50 day, 50 million meet will not be possible without the subsidy from Atlantic City. The end of horse racing in New Jersey will put thousands out of work, and lose the state 780 million annually. The horse is the state animal, but they will be leaving the so called ‘garden state’ in droves.
Atlantic City race track used to be profitable track. Then in the 1970′s the casinos came to its city. The track took a hit with attendance, and today operates live racing just six days a year. It is not a huge leap to say that the casinos drove that racetrack out of business. Today neighboring states with racinos, just might spell the end of Atlantic City as we know it. The governor will not allow slots at racetracks, so revenue that could go to New Jersey, instead goes over to Philadelphia Park and Yonkers Raceway in New York. If the state of New Jersey cannot save the struggling casinos, even though they are going to effectively end thoroughbred racing in their attempt, they will lose not only revenue, but a huge part of the history of their state. The end result could leave even more empty buildings in Atlantic City, more crime, more poverty, more out of work employees, less open space, no horses and perhaps, that will be poetic justice. The greed of the Atlantic City casino industry has long held an all or nothing approach in regards to other gambling avenues the state could possibly profit from. Sadly, politicians have for so long bowed to every demand the casinos make, that the all is no longer feasible, and the state may just wind up with the nothing it deserves.