Gural bullish on sports betting

Now that the Supreme Court has authorized states to legalize sports betting, the owner of the Meadowlands hopes to put the additional revenue toward paying off his multi-million dollar investment in the track.

by Dave Briggs

Count Jeff Gural among those that think sports betting will be good for his racetrack business, more so because it may help him recoup his sizeable investment in the Meadowlands than it will raise purses.

“It helps me immensely, because I’ve been subsidizing the place for the last couple of years and I won’t have to do that anymore,” Gural said, referring to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can legalize sports betting, breaking up Nevada’s monopoly on the practice. The court upheld the legality of a 2014 New Jersey law permitting sports betting at casinos and racetracks in the state and voided the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Some states see sports betting, like lotteries, as a potentially important source of tax revenue. The Supreme Court justices struck down the entire federal law on a 6-3 vote.

Gural said it is too early to tell if sports betting will eventually provide direct revenue to purses, but he would like to get back his $100 million+ investment in the Big M before purses get a cut.

“I’m a horse guy, if I thought putting $2 million dollars into the purse account would make a difference, that’s one thing, but… remember, the horse shortage raises the purses at Pocono, Yonkers and Chester because the amount of the subsidy is the same, but you’re dividing it by fewer races. So you’re going to see, with the horse shortage, it’s going to raise purses in New York and Pennsylvania to astronomical levels because they’ll be racing 10 races instead of 14 races and the amount of money that they are racing for will be the same,” Gural said.

Gural said sports betting could be, “a great thing. It’s going to put people in the building. In Europe, it seems to actually help the racing, according to the people I’ve been interviewing. A typical betting parlor in the U.K. is horses and sports combined.”

He said sports betting would also likely draw younger people to the track.

“If they are standing around and there’s racing going on, or simulcasting, it’s certainly not impossible to think that they might also bet on horse racing, right? Why not?”

Before then, “the legislature has to pass the legislation that basically establishes the rules – how it gets done, what the tax rate is, how many licenses you can have and then the gaming commission has to do the rules and regs and then we’re ready to go.”

Gural said he hopes to have sports betting in place before the start of the National Football League (NFL) season in the fall. Media reports are that Freehold is hoping to begin taking sports bets around the same time.

Gural acknowledged that he has one major problem when it comes to sports betting: due to the fact the Meadowlands is adjacent to Metlife Stadium — home to the NFL’s NY Giants and Jets — the track is prohibited by the terms of its lease from being open on Sundays during football season.

“It is a big disadvantage, but 85 per cent of the (sports betting) business is done online,” he said. “But we’ll have a big advantage because, in New York, the only place they can have sports betting is the four upstate casinos, including Tioga Downs. We’ll have the New York City market to ourselves for the first couple of years.”

Gural said he would have to find a gaming partner to operate the sports betting end of his business.

“I’m not going to run it myself,” he said. “There are companies out there that do this for a living and I have to pick one or two and partner up with them on the sports betting.

“Basically, we’re waiting to see what the legislation is going to look like. It’s kind of new. Then we’ll go from there. Hopefully, they’ll have the legislation finalized by June 7.”

Meanwhile, thoroughbred racing’s Monmouth Park could begin taking sports bets in a matter of weeks and it is expected some of the revenue will be directed toward purses.

Gural said there’s a crucial difference between Monmouth and the Meadowlands — Monmouth is operated by horsepeople, and the assumption is sports betting will partly be used to augment purses.

“They own the track, so whatever they get from sports betting could go into the purse account,” Gural said of Monmouth. “They didn’t invest any money in Monmouth. Monmouth is the same as it was 40 years ago. It’s an antiquated facility. The Meadowlands is a brand new, state-of-the art racetrack… We invested $125 million and I overpaid the purses for years in the hope that we get a casino.”

Gural said where purses could get a boost at the Meadowlands is from a lobbying effort to restore the $30 million subsidy the state of New Jersey once provided to horse racing.

“The Meadowlands would be back to where it was (if the industry receives the subsidy),” Gural said. “We’ll have good purses, good horses and the only thing we won’t have are the drug guys.

“My focus right now is getting sports betting up and running for the football season and getting the $30 million reinstated in the budget that we had years ago before I got involved. Those are the two things that I’m focused on 100 per cent.”

— with files from the SBOANJ