The winter racing season is underway at the Meadowlands Racetrack and reports say wagering is up … by a lot. Jeff Gural, Chairman of the New Meadowlands Racetrack, tells NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that lessons learned from the first year of operation have helped to put the racetrack on a more profitable course.
Gural touted the number of bets placed, citing last Saturday as a prime example. “They bet more on a normal card than they did last year on the Meadowlands Pace night which is your biggest night,” he said.
Gural and his team has tried different tactics to attract gamblers, most notably by rewarding their most loyal customer with rebates, much like the way casinos comp their regular customers.
“Well some people came to me and said we bet $30,000 a day at your track, maybe we’ll bet $300,000 a day if we could negotiate a better deal for ourselves because the way it works today the biggest betters get rebates.”
Gural and his group aren’t done changing things around. Come Thanksgiving, the Meadowlands’ new grandstand will open to the public. The fall opening is by design, said Gural, because New Jerseyans head to the shore in droves during the dog days of summer.
“When it’s not the summer, I think we’re one of the entertainment options that people have,” Gural said. “So what we’ve learned is that people actually like it better in the winter, in the fall. So we’re gonna, rather than race on Thursday like we’re doing now, we’re going to race fewer Thursdays and more weekends and we’re going to start right before Thanksgiving and then go from there.”
After getting legislative approval by the Assembly and the Senate, a bill that would allow gamblers to bet on casino games in Atlantic City over the Internet is now in the hands of Gov. Christie. Gural has been a vocal opponent against the bill, arguing that it would have a devastating effect on the racetracks and harm jobs in Atlantic City.
Despite the positive numbers of late, Gural is hesitant to say that he is glad to have taken over the Meadowlands Racetrack.
“I’m 70 years old, I’m working harder now than I ever worked,” he said. “One good thing for me is I sort of control the sport because the Meadowlands is the dominant track in the sport of harnessing.”
He’s still holding out hope that the state will allow casinos at racetracks, saying it was a determining factor in his decision to take over the racetrack.
“I just don’t think they’re going to allow people to just to go to New York and Pennsylvania forever,” he said. “I think the governor is right to want to save Atlantic City but obviously Revel’s been a major, shockingly major disappointment, and I think they’ve got their work cut out for them. Hopefully, we can work together in the future and we can help them cause as I said publicly we would pay a much higher tax rate. We would pay $350 million a year to the state and all of the casinos combined in Atlantic City only pay about $220 million, so you would think somehow there’s a way to work together on this.”