By Brenda Flanagan
The last call to post at Atlantic City Race Course sounded this summer, heralding six short days of live racing. Although crowds turned out to watch the horses run on turf, the money reportedly still fell short. The storied racecourse — opened in 1946, graced by Princess Grace and other celebrities — will close this Friday, according to track operator Joe Wilson “…due to continuous business decline in the industry, the current regional economic climate and the absence of alternative revenue opportunities.”
“I think it’s a travesty. It’s such a beautiful track,” said Todd Gould.
“It’s a shame. I think they — this company — they could’ve done a lot more to attract business to this property. They were running the place like they didn’t care,” said Steve Capozzi.
“I was somewhat shocked,” said Dennis Drazin.
Attorney Drazin operates Monmouth Park, says sadly, the Atlantic City track went from glamorous to grungy despite some success with limited turf racing.
“There was a decline in the way the track was kept up. They needed more improvements there,” he said.
Drazin says the racecourse couldn’t hit its stride because, he says, all New Jersey tracks including Monmouth, Meadlowlands and Freehold run with heavy handicaps.
“No casinos at racetracks, no slots at racetracks, no instant racing at racetracks. It becomes harder for the racetracks to compete with surrounding states that have all of those things,” he said.
For example, at New York tracks, bets on thoroughbred racing increased slightly to $2.34 billion in 2013 — up from $2.29 billion in 2010. But New Jersey tracks saw wagering tank in 2013 — to $3.5 million. That’s down by half from 2010.
“We’re talking about a billion dollar industry that’s slowly dying — just like the casinos are dying. Hopefully Monmouth Racetrack and the Meadowlands won’t follow suit. Hopefully we’ll get sports betting there,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.
Lesniak sponsored the law to bring sports betting to New Jersey, but it’s mired in a federal court fight. Drazin’s betting on that to save Monmouth Park and Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural’s hoping a new North Jersey casino will make his track a big winner.
The key, says industry expert Karyn Malinowski: “The leaders in the horse industry have to make sure that a percentage of that casino revenue comes back to support racing.”
Malinowski says the owners of Atlantic City Race Course have invested in Pennsylvania casinos and racetracks — no surprise they’d dump Atlantic City. The owners didn’t call us back. Drazin says he wants to lease the AC track, offer turf races with purse money that the racecourse accumulated over the past months.
Renovations continue here at Monmouth Park, even as it battles to offer sports betting — it’s just another leg in the New Jersey’s horse racing industry’s endurance match. Most of which looks to be uphill.