Can Sports Betting Save the Atlantic City Race Course?

Posted on: May 22, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: May 22, 2018, 04:06h.

New Jersey plans to have its sports betting regulations in place by June 7, by which time Monmouth Park will be ready to go. In fact, it was ready in 2014, when only a federal injunction prevented it from unveiling its shiny new William Hill sports book, and it has been chomping at the bit ever since.

Atlantic City Race Course
The Atlantic City Race Course in more prosperous times. Should someone take a bet on reopening the course, it’s possible it would need rebuilding from the ground up, an Atlantic City lawmaker said this week. (Image: Turfotos/Historical Photo Archives)

Meanwhile, the Atlantic City Race Course, which closed the following year in 2015, has no shiny sports book. Instead, it’s overgrown with weeds and its clubhouse is derelict, according to Atlantic City Township Committeeman John Kurtz, who spoke to the Press of Atlantic City this week.

New Jersey has fought for the right to offer sports betting since 2011, when its citizens authorized sports books in a public referendum in the hope they would offer a shot in the arm to the state’s ailing racetracks and casinos.

Thanks to those efforts, and a positive decision from the US Supreme Court, seven years later sports betting is now imminent. But will its advent rescue the Atlantic City Racecourse?

The Clock is Ticking

State Senator Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) told the Press of Atlantic City he hoped sports betting would spur the site’s current owner, Greenwood ACRA, into renovating and reopening the property, or into selling it to someone who would be willing to take the gamble.

“Permitting sports betting at the course will, hopefully, provide the financial opportunity needed for the owners to be able to fix up or sell an unused eyesore, so it can once again employ 400 people while attracting hundreds of visitors to our area,” said Brown.

But a decision would need to be made quickly. Under the legislation expected to be passed early next month, companies will have a two-year window in which to apply for a sports betting license before they miss the boat.

Glory Days

According to Kurtz, the building would need a “major overhaul, or it would have to be demolished and (re)start(ed) from the ground up.”

But the 250-acre property has potential, according to State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (R-Atlantic), who told the Press of Atlantic City there was scope for the development of restaurants, retail facilities, and even a hotel.

The Atlantic City Race Course opened in July 1946, attracting the largest ever inaugural day racetrack crowd in history, of around 28,000 people. In the summer of 1969, it hosted the Atlantic City Pop Festival, which was attended by over 100,000 people and featured a line-up that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Byrds and Little Richard.

But it suffered from the nationwide decline the popularity of horse racing over the past five decades, and particularly from the legalization of casino gambling in Atlantic City in the late 1970s.