TRENTON, NJ — A bill that would appropriate $20 million to boost horse racing in New Jersey has passed the Assembly by a vote of 68-6 with one abstention.

Sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal of District 11 in Monmouth County, home to Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway, and Sen. Paul A. Sarlo, District 36, which includes, Bergen County, home of the Meadowlands, sponsored the bill.

The Senate approved its version of the bill in December with amendments.  

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On Jan. 28, the measure was voted out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and presented to the full Assembly on Jan. 31.

The bill would provide that the net revenues actually received by the tracks from sports wagering will go to the horsemen’s organizations. The tracks would have to file annual reports and if the funds have not substantially improved the racing industry in New Jersey the legislature can opt to end the subsidies.

The bill appropriates $20 million from the State General Fund to the New Jersey Racing Commission in this fiscal year and potentially an additional $20 million annually in each of the subsequent four fiscal years thereafter. Thus, the potential aggregate impact of this bill is a $100 million expenditure increase to the State General Fund over a period of five fiscal years.

Sports wagering is offered at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park race tracks as well as casinos in Atlantic City and online. Plans are underway to bring sports wagering to Freehold Raceway.

Under the bill, the thoroughbred and the standardbred industries would split the funds evenly. Monmouth Park would use the money to supplement overnight purses. The Meadowlands would get 60 percent of the standardbred share for overnight purses; 16 percent would go to Freehold for overnight purses; 12 percent to the New Jersey Sire Stakes purses; 6 percent to purse bonuses for New Jersey sired horses; and 6 percent for breeders awards.

For many years, Atlantic City casinos provided $30 million a year to the tracks to prop up the racing industry, provided they did not pursue slots, until Gov. Chris Christie was elected. In 2011 the state-run Meadowlands and Monmouth Park were handed over to private entities to operate but efforts to bring slots or video gaming terminals to the tracks failed. Earlier this year, the state won a long federal legal battle over sports betting and now the tracks as well as the casinos can take sports bets.

The tracks, especially Freehold Raceway, have struggled to attract horses enter its races which have lower purses than tracks in New York and Pennsylvania which receive funds from on-site casinos and other gambling.

Rutgers Equine Science Center recently released a report on the status of the racing industry.

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