By Dean Towers
I hope over the last several years writing this column I would be described as a fairly honest broker. I am reticent to sweep something that might shed a bad light on harness racing under the rug, and I do not apologize for the sport when it does something I think is wrong. So, hopefully this column doesn’t smack too much of being a homer.
Well, I can’t for the life of me figure out why there is even a debate in New Jersey where to house a new casino, if passed. It’s like asking if the sky is blue, if Jerry Silva wants a piece of my 1:51 maiden breaker, or if I won that photo (I didn’t). It should be at the Meadowlands.
I won’t bore you with the usual; the “jobs”, the labor intensive harness racing ecosystem, the proximities, the “greenspace”, the spin-offs. Newsflash, if a government gives millions to a basket weaving industry, it will create jobs too. If it spends money on parkland, we’ll have greenspace. It’s politicospeak and I don’t talk that language. What I will say, is that having something world class matters.
This past year the Minnesota Vikings received $506 million from the cash-strapped legislature in Minnesota for their new stadium. In football, go down the list, team by team, it’s one of many. It is estimated that up to 70% of all NFL stadiums have been funded by someone other than the teams themselves and in many cities, ongoing costs are paid.
In Indianapolis there’s a $100 million bill proposed to help the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
“IMS is an enormous, 100-year-old facility. In addition to the many annual projects to maintain it, we need to make the Speedway more flexible, more modern and better positioned to attract more fans to IMS and Indiana,” Jeff Belskus, CEO of the speedway, said in a statement. “It’s really about keeping this iconic facility competitive in the sports and entertainment world.”
You can examine other industries, or businesses in certain states and cities, they too receive something from someone other than their customers if it’s considered “world class.” And most people are okay with it. That’s because being world class in something matters. Does anyone think running the Indy 500 across the border in Illinois makes any sense at all?
New Jersey, off the top of my head (and no offense, Garden State residents), isn’t known for much of anything. If people want to see a hockey game in the area they would choose the Devils a strong third to the Islanders and Rangers, I think the Nets play in Brooklyn, and there are a couple of NFL teams – the Jets and the Giants – but York follows New in their names. Museums, Broadway plays? Um, no.
New Jersey, with the Meadowlands Racetrack, is known (and could be even more well-known) for something, though: The World’s best harness racing. It possesses some of the most storied races, and the facility draws worldwide fans and horsemen to it. There is no harness track in the world where more is bet on the races, or where more people attend the races live each year. I am certainly evidence of that. I have been to the New York area a dozen or more times, but I stay in Jersey and my visits to the Big Apple are bussed or limoed in. That’s because of the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Why in the world would New Jersey’s political class want to build some nameless faceless casino that looks exactly like every other nameless faceless casino when they have the Meadowlands? Why would they want to lose out on continuing to make New Jersey the destination for world class harness racing? Why would they not want to promote and foster “world’s best” in something? Where’s the pride to do something more than just build a building?
And I have not even touched on more of the obvious.
In “The demand for slot machine and pari-mutuel horse race wagering at a racetrack-casino” a study regarding casino revenue at racetracks, the author concluded:
“Pari-mutuel horse race wagering fell 21% after slot machines were introduced and 16% following the introduction of table games. On the other hand, slot machine wagering increased 13% in the presence of live horse racing and 14% in the presence of import simulcast horse racing”
So, you’ve got a ready-made market, in a great spot, with solid infrastructure that draws people from all over the world. Academic studies show that the location will bring in more revenue than a new stand-alone location. As an added bonus, revenues that are shared (should be shared, for heaven’s sake) with the facility will increase New Jersey’s brand worldwide, as having the best harness races on the planet. Races like the Hambo, Meadowlands Pace, TVG and Haughton would be enhanced, adding to the brand. Tourism would increase for several races. Live racing could expand to three or four days a week, again increasing casino revenue.
And there’s still a debate? Seriously?
I am the first to admit I don’t understand modern day politics and certainly don’t understand New Jersey politics. But I like to think I have some common sense. New Jersey, if a northern casino passes, would be crazy to house that casino anywhere other than the Meadowlands. Quite simply: Anywhere else does not make any sense.