Despite the federal law banning sports betting in all but Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon, the Garden State is moving forward to allow sports betting in New Jersey beginning Jan. 9, but applications will be limited to the casinos in Atlantic City and New Jersey’s four horse racing tracks. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider sat down with John Forbes, President of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, about what sports betting will mean for Monmouth Park Racetrack.
Forbes, who just completed the first season at the new Monmouth Park, said attendance was up even though their handle, or the total amount of money bet, was down a little over 10 percent.
“We had anticipated a much greater drop because of our lateness in getting the meets started and because we had to reduce our purses this year based on the limited ability to pay purses under the situation we have now,” said Forbes.
It has been a time of great transition for the race track since it became privatized this past May, Forbes credited loyal fans and said plans are in place to make Monmouth Park a destination for people across New Jersey and the country.
Forbes listed the changes that have already taken place, saying “We added a million dollars worth of video boards that the fans have really like, we brought in a new caterer, we finished one project, a miniature golf course on the north end of the track.” According to Forbes, a concert venue and a boardwalk-themed area with shops are planned for next year, and a water-theme park and a hotel within five years.
The NCAA and the major professional sports leagues have filed a federal lawsuit to block sports betting in New Jersey. In the latest action, the NCAA announced that it would no longer play championship games in New Jersey, moving five championship games out of New Jersey next year.
Forbes says Monmouth Park has its application ready to go to obtain one of the sport betting licenses. Unlike the casinos, he says the racetrack has been proactive in moving the issue forward because “the casinos in AC are a little bit shy because they have operations in other states.”
The revenue from sports betting could help Monmouth Park with future projects. “One of the things that we will intend to do this fall is to open free play [which] will set up a sports betting center where you can bet on and you would win prizes and not money,” he cited as an example.
According to Forbes, Monmouth Park’s future is very much based on the vision and advice of its former president and attorney Dennis Drazen who he says has made saving Monmouth a personal crusade.
“Dennis’ vision is there’s no project too small, no project too big. He’s a terrific attorney but has sacrificed his whole practice.”
Even without the addition of sports betting, Forbes says Monmouth Park will survive no matter what.
“We’re not going to accept that Monmouth will fail under any circumstances,” he said emphatically. “One of the things we said to Dennis is ‘you’re making a lot of sacrifices to save Monmouth for us,’ and he says ‘well I’m not saving it for you, I’m saving it for your grandchildren.’ Dennis’ vision is that Monmouth Park will become a destination with so many different venues that sports betting will be only be one.”
Asked about the potential windfall from sports betting, Forbes says it could be substantial if Monmouth Park was the only one participating.
“In Las Vegas, it’s less than 1 percent of the handle out there, but we think there’s certainly potential for us to produce revenue to keep Monmouth going.”