OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — Three years after taking over Monmouth Park, the operators of the New Jersey shore thoroughbred racetrack believe the facility either will break even this year or make a profit.
Speaking at the track's season opening news conference on Tuesday, Dennis Drazin said the track has reversed recent losing trends, seen increases in betting handle and attendance the past two years and is now self-sufficient.
Drazin continues to be optimistic about the future of racing in New Jersey, saying the struggling industry will be on the verge of a turnaround if either sports betting is legalized or the state legislature approves the expansion of casinos outside of Atlantic City.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who has led the push for sports betting in New Jersey, wants the legislature to put a referendum on the November ballot for voters to approve casino expansion outside of Atlantic City.
"We are here to stay," said Drazin, who advises the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which leases the track from the state, and Darby Development LLC, which operates the track. "There is no one who is going to close us down. There is no one that is going to put us out of business. Racing will always be here."
The Monmouth Park meet, which is highlighted by the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational, will open on Saturday and run through Sept. 27.
There are some who question the future of horse racing in the state, especially if it does not get an influx of money in the future from either sports betting or revenue generated by casinos in the northern part of the state.
"Not only would we lose revenue and jobs, we'd lose open space," Lesniak said. "New Jersey doesn't need to more open space. This industry has significant impact in the quality of life of all of New Jersey."
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether New Jersey had the right to repeal its sports gambling laws. It is opposed by the country's major sports leagues.
Lesniak said casino expansion referendum needs a push from state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Republican Gov. Chris Christie to get on the ballot in November. If something isn't done by August, it will not happen this year.
"It has to happen soon and I expect it to happen soon. It's almost a forced move," said Lesniak, adding that a site in Jersey City and another at the Meadowlands would be the front-runners for casinos in northern New Jersey. "We have to move ahead or we are going to continue to fall behind."
Even if a referendum was passed in November, casinos in the northern part of the state probably would not open for another two years because the legislature would have to write new rules and award sites.
"I hope they understand we are losing hundreds of millions of dollars to other states by not having casinos in north Jersey and that some of those revenues can be reinvested in Atlantic City and our racetracks to keep both of those industries from withering on the vine because that's what is happening now," Lesniak said.