Jersey shore horse track wants in on casino expansion, help for horse racing industry

Industries Associated Press

A horse racing track at the Jersey shore wants to make sure it's in the mix for a casino if voters ever approve the expansion of casino gambling beyond Atlantic City.

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The council in Oceanport, the Monmouth County borough that hosts the Monmouth Park track, passed a resolution Thursday night supporting casinos in other parts of the state. It also wants any such expansion to include a dedicated revenue stream for its track and the horse racing industry in general in New Jersey.

Expanding casinos beyond Atlantic City would require an amendment to the state Constitution. But with Atlantic City's casino industry shrinking — four of its 12 casinos closed last year — support has been growing in northern New Jersey for a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, or in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

"We had always heard it was between Jersey City or the Meadowlands," Oceanport Councilman Joseph Irace said. "We need to get our name in the mix as part of that discussion. Why leave Monmouth Park out? Let's see if we can get some traction with this."

He said Oceanport would love to host a casino at the track, which is a popular summertime attraction at the Jersey shore near Long Branch.

Irace said state representatives have informally told Oceanport officials they consider the track to be too close to Atlantic City to warrant placing a casino there — even though it is an hour and a half north of the gambling resort.

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In the event Oceanport is not chosen to host a casino, the borough still wants a piece of the action. Its resolution calls for part of the money raised by a new non-Atlantic City casino elsewhere in the state to help support Monmouth Park and the state's horse racing industry.

Atlantic City's casinos used to pay $30 million a year to the horse tracks in return for keeping casino gambling out of them. In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie ended those payments, redirecting the money to fund the Atlantic City Alliance, which promoted the resort to other parts of the country.

But state officials are on the verge of dismantling the alliance and redirecting its $30 million to the city's municipal finances and to help attract new development there.

Hurt by casinos popping up in neighboring states — some of which include racetrack casinos, like Pennsylvania and New York — Atlantic City has seen its casino revenue fall from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.74 billion last year.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC