Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural led the charge to end Atlantic City’s monopoly on gambling last year, but the November referendum to amend the state’s constitution was heavily rejected by voters.
The result of the tally was that casinos would remain confined to the beachfront town. The referendum cannot be represented to New Jerseyans until November of 2018.
Gural, along with former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman, wanted voters to approve the licensing of two casino resorts at least 72 miles outside of Atlantic City. One of the likely destinations would have been the Meadowlands Sports Complex, home to MetLife Stadium where the New York Giants and Jets play, as well as Gural’s storied racetrack.
Like horse racing across the country, the Meadowlands Racetrack has seen attendance and revenues decline over recent decades. Bringing a casino to the complex was seen as a potential saving grace to grow purses and attract new visitors.
“I’m not a dummy. I recognize that harness racing is a dying business,” Gural told the Press of Atlantic City this week. “The only thing that will save me at the Meadowlands is a casino.”
Del Lago Off to the Races
Gural need not look far to see how casinos can adequately help fund a struggling racing venue.
Just east across the Hudson River, the Yonkers Raceway incorporated high-tech video gaming and slot machines over a decade ago. In 2015, the casino was permitted to also include electronic versions of blackjack, craps, roulette, and baccarat.
To the west of New Jersey, Pennsylvania’s expansion of land-based casinos over the last 10 or so years has revitalized horse racing. The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and Hollywood Casino at Penn National have both helped bring in foot traffic to the tracks.
More importantly, many states that are expanding gambling mandate that a substantial portion of the generated slots revenue be directed to the horsemen. That allows tracks to entice bigger racing events through larger purses.
Though the oversaturation of gambling is a concern to some, one of the newest northeast casinos, the del Lago Resort & Casino in upstate New York, is painting a different picture. The Finger Lakes venue pulled in a staggering $36.6 million over its first six days in operation.
Odds Say Casino Not Coming
Unfortunately for Gural, it appears his track will remain on the outskirts for the time being. Atlantic City’s monopoly will continue for a minimum of another two years, and even if he’s able to get the casino referendum back on the ballot, support remains slim.
In November, over 77 percent of respondents voted against bringing casinos north. Nearly 1.7 million more votes were in favor of keeping gambling at the beach than expanding.
Gural says that way of thinking will change. If it doesn’t, well, it’s the Garden State’s loss.
“Voters of New Jersey would be idiots for not approving,” Gural declared. “Common sense is common sense. I plan to sit tight and wait.”