FanDuel Sportsbook at The Meadowlands has been a track saver.
by Dave Briggs
Meadowlands Racetrack owner and CEO Jeff Gural gave his annual state-of-the-track address Saturday (Aug. 7) in a televised interview with Dave Little.
Gural told Little that The Meadowlands’ FanDuel Sportsbook has been instrumental in the track’s recent success. The sportsbook is an industry leader.
“I believe it’s the number one sportsbook in the world,” Gural said what Little mentioned it was the top sportsbook in the entire United States. “It’s directly linked (to the track’s revival) because we share in the profits with the horsemen, so a piece of the profits goes to the purse account for the horsemen. I think we may be the only sportsbook that does that. It helps me repay all the losses I’ve had for five or six years while we were trying to hang on. It’s been amazing how successful it’s been.”
The sportsbook has been so successful Gural said it has lessened the pressure to bring a full-fledged casino to The Meadowlands.
“It’s not as necessary as it once was, because of sports betting,” Gural said. “I believe that when the casinos open in New York City, which I believe will be soon, in another year or two, people living in New Jersey will say, ‘Why am I driving over the George Washington Bridge and paying $20 and sitting in traffic, when I could just go to the Meadowlands.’ So, I’m just waiting for those down-state casinos to open in New York and see what the reaction is to people living in northern New Jersey.”
Gural said another key to The Big M’s success, of late, has been political cooperation from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
“Without Governor Murphy, we’d be in big trouble. (Former) Governor (Chris) Christie made every effort to put us out of business and Governor Murphy has done the exact opposite. The legislature has joined with them – Craig Coughlin has been great, the senate leaders are great, so it’s been a partnership that has made a huge difference. Our purses are good. We were getting crushed, we couldn’t compete. We were racing mediocre horses for mediocre purses and we were hanging by a thread here without their help,” said Gural, who added that Christie didn’t support horse racing because he was, “a friend of the casino industry and he believed that you shouldn’t subsize a business that can’t stand on its own two feet. He didn’t buy into the argument that the casinos have made it more difficult for horse racing to survive because we can’t compete. By the way, the casinos are subsidized – they have a tax rate in New Jersey of eight per cent and in Pennsylvania the tax rate is 55 per cent. New York it’s 40 per cent. The biggest subsidy of all is to the casinos, but they create a lot of jobs also, so it’s the same argument.
“Thankfully… I developed a friendship with (Christie) and he didn’t have to allow me to buy the (Meadowlands from the state of New Jersey). He could’ve said, ‘Forget it, Jeff, we’re going to close it.’ So, I have a good relationship with him, but he just had a pragmatic view that if a business can’t survive on its own then it shouldn’t exist.”
Gural also addressed his recent meeting with Meadowlands drivers where he asked them to stop giving holes. Little asked him if that meeting will result in something noticeable to the betting public.
“It will definitely be noticeable,” Gural said. “The first day we tried it was a couple of weeks ago on a Friday and they closed the holes, with the exception of one or two.
“(The drivers) made an argument to me, which I try to be reasonable, that 2-year-olds, you know, you don’t want to cook them in their first one or two starts. So, I think that’s a valid argument. They also made an argument that you shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the heart of our stakes season, so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll buy it, but I expect you guys to go along with the rule change when we open back up again in September.’ So, I would expect that people would see a different style. They are going to see the type of racing that I grew up with, because there were never any holes.
“Somebody said, ‘If courtesy is important to you, then you should become a maître’d and not be driving standardbreds at the Meadowlands’ and that’s the view.”
As for his own standardbred breeding operation, Gural said “the horse breeding business is okay. It’s not an easy business because things go wrong. Everybody thinks you breed a great mare to Muscle Hill or Walner and you get a beautiful horse, but, like I was telling you earlier, I had two mares that were in foal to Walner and when we rechecked them on July 1st, both of them had lost their babies.
“So, now they are empty and I don’t have two Walners to sell in two years. Obviously, it’s an advantage to have a farm in New York and Pennsylvania, but truthfully I use both of them as a place to go. New York is really where I spent almost the entire pandemic and then my kids came and it’s really a combination farm and second home. Pennsylvania is also a beautiful second home, but the casino is also up there, so I spend a lot of time when I’m up there. It’s worked out good from a quality of life standpoint – I’m not sure the economics (of breeding standardbreds is) that great.”