Meadowlands racetrack signs deal, moves closer to sports betting

The sports betting legislation that passed both houses of the state Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature is creating a buzz for the horse racing industry, especially in the Meadowlands, where other entertainment factors are creating synergy.

Jeff Gural, operator of the Meadowlands Racetrack, signed a contract the same day the legislation passed, Thursday, with Paddy Power Betfair’s Betfair US, which will bring FanDuel to the Meadowlands.

Despite pressure from a number of legislators Friday for Murphy to sign the bill in time for casinos and racetracks to take bets this weekend, Gural told ROI-NJ on Friday that wouldn’t happen even if he did sign.

“We were never that far along, we were waiting for the legislation to pass,” he said. “We’ve got to work with (Paddy Power) on where we want to put up a temporary facility, and go from there. The governor’s delay is not a factor in our plans.”

Assembly Republicans Jon Bramnick (Westfield) and Serena DiMaso (Red Bank) urged Murphy to sign as soon as possible.

“Let’s not play politics after years of hard-fought litigation,” Bramnick said in a statement early Friday.  “Murphy should sign the bill today. The state is losing revenue every day we wait.”

DiMaso echoed his comments, saying a delay in signing would be a “gut-punch” to the state.

“This is a really big weekend for sports, especially in the horse-racing industry,” she said in a statement. “The Belmont Stakes, NBA Finals, the French Open and a weekend of all 30 baseball teams taking the field — that is a huge missed opportunity and an even bigger loss for our gambling industry. Gov. Murphy simply must sign the sports betting bill immediately. Waiting shouldn’t even be considered.”

The push comes despite a letter from the New Jersey Racing Commission to the racetracks that they will have to wait until the governor signs the bill into law, as reported by NJ Advance Media.

Gural said he is meeting Friday with the betting company to figure out, while working with architects and contractors, where Meadowlands will set up a temporary facility.

“Hopefully, we can be up and running in a month, on a temporary basis, and be up online for the football season,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gural is waiting on clarification from the state on whether or not a building that is off from the track, but still a part of the property, can be used to take bets.

“That’s really the only issue that is still up in the air,” Gural said.

But the passing of the legislation is keeping many optimistic.

Meadowlands Regional Chamber CEO and President Jim Kirkos said the legislation will help revitalize his region of the state — and hinted at reviving discussions of a North Jersey casino.

“The whole horse racing industry was struggling, and the operators of those facilities need that extra revenue to be able to build their purses and be able to do the kinds of things that will attract a new market for horse racing,” he said. “As a means of entertainment, it’s kind of like a jolt of energy in the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park that says perhaps we can sustain this business. It’s an integral part of the entertainment mix we are trying to build in the Meadowlands to make it a destination.”

Kirkos referenced the progress being made on the American Dream project, which is set to open its doors in the spring of 2019.

“When I think about fulfilling our vision for this multivenue sports and entertainment complex here in the Meadowlands, now that American Dream is a reality … maybe this opens up the door to having an honest discussion, not a political discussion, about advancing gaming outside of Atlantic City and putting a casino here in the Meadowlands in the not-so-distant future. That creates another multivenue sports and entertainment complex right here in the Meadowlands, but, more importantly, it’s a tremendous economic generator for New Jersey, so that’s something that I’m not giving up hope on. Our long-term economic vision plan still anticipates us growing the venue mixes here. But right now, this is another positive step in the right direction.”