Meadowlands Racetrack Operator Says Casino Critical to Track’s Survival

Posted on: September 26, 2016, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: September 26, 2016, 03:46h.

Meadowlands Racetrack Jeff Gural casino referendum New Jersey
Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural had grand plans to compliment his track with a casino, but it now appears those efforts will fall short with New Jersey voters. (Image: Aaron Houston/NJBIZ)

Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural is done paying for marketing efforts to bring casinos to northern New Jersey, but the real estate mogul isn’t conceding his verbal efforts to end Atlantic City’s gambling monopoly.

Last week, Gural and billionaire partner Paul Fireman, the former CEO of Reebok, announced they were suspending the Our Turn NJ (OTNJ) commercial campaign. OTNJ’s mission was to sway voters in the Garden State to support a November referendum to authorize the construction of two $1 billion casinos in counties at least 72 miles outside Atlantic City.

Though the locations of the potential casinos were yet to be determined, many believed the Meadowlands was a leading contender. Gural runs the struggling Meadowlands Racetrack where racing is largely confined to Friday and Saturday nights.

Fireman had proposed a $4 billion resort near Liberty State Park.

A recent poll from Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics showed just 40 percent of registered voters support freeing casinos from Atlantic City. Gural said an effective marketing campaign from opponents kept the state constitution amendment at bay, but he isn’t ready to yield his efforts in the long term.

“I thought if I built a beautiful facility and offered to give the taxpayers $500 million a year, people would get on the bandwagon. Not this year,” Gural told NJ Advance Media.

Pressing On

If voters opt not to pass the casino referendum, Gural and Fireman will be barred from continuing their efforts for two years. Failed amendments to the state constitution in New Jersey must undergo a two year cooling off period before trying to push for a similar measure.

Gural says he will see New Jerseyans again in 2018 if support lacks in November 2016.

“Horse racing in New Jersey has been destroyed,” Gural explained. “Eventually, there will be a casino at the Meadowlands. There has to be.”

Gural believes the political climate is causing voters to turn against any initiative endorsed by lawmakers.

The amendment has bipartisan support in Trenton. Governor Chris Christie (R) and State Senate Stephen Sweeney (D-District 3) are the two most important names behind the motion. But Christie’s polling numbers are in the gutter and voters across Jersey are rallying with the “anti-government” sentiment being witnessed across the country.

From GOP candidate Donald Trump to former Hillary Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, Gural says the message that politics is corrupt is resonating.

Disappearing Money

Though several economic factors have played a role in Atlantic City’s demise, one primary factor that cannot be overlooked is competition.

In 2006, gross gaming revenue in New Jersey totaled $5.2 billion. Nine years and five casino closures later, that figure totaled $2.6 billion in 2015.

During the same stretch, Pennsylvania legalized commercial gambling and table games and went from $31.5 million in 2006 to $3.2 billion in 2015.

Gural wants to bring those lost revenues back to New Jersey, and ideally bring new patrons to his horse racetrack.

“The worst thing that ever happened to Atlantic City would be the defeat of this referendum,” Gural said. “There’s no money to rebuild Atlantic City . . . They have no shot at survival now.”