12/10/2010 4:24PM

Lobbyists working behind scenes to craft solution to budget, racing problems in New Jersey


New Jersey legislators have continued to pass a series of bills affecting the racing and gambling industries in the state, in an ongoing effort to devise a dual solution to the state’s budget problems and the uncertainty surrounding next year’s racing schedule.

On Thursday, the Assembly Regulatory and Oversight Committee advanced 10 bills affecting Atlantic City casinos and the racing industry, including legislation that would legalize exchange wagering and streamline the process for opening offtrack betting parlors. The bills are similar to legislation that had earlier passed the full Senate, though they also contain several differences that would require additional action by the Senate to become law.

The legislation is being passed at the same time that representatives of the state’s gambling industries continue to conduct behind-the-scene negotiations with Gov. Chris Christie in an attempt to work out a viable solution to the state’s problems. Several racing officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity on Friday said that the legislation being passed over the last several weeks will form a basis for a negotiated solution, but that they do not expect those bills to pass both houses and receive Christie’s endorsement.

“It’s all very complicated,” said one of the officials, who would not speak while being identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “What’s going on right now [in the legislature] doesn’t have much to do with what is going to happen.”

The state’s Thoroughbred and harness industries remain reluctant to accept cuts to racing dates without significant help from the state, and uncertainty over the racing schedules almost guarantees that a separate agreement will have to be worked out with the governor and legislators in order to advance any legislation. The negotiations are expected to continue through the end of the year.

Earlier this week, Christie vetoed the minutes from a New Jersey Racing Commission meeting on Nov. 10, voiding a decision by the commission that day to approve 141 Thoroughbred racing dates next year.

Several racing officials said that the commission will likely approve the same 141-date schedule at igts next meeting on Dec. 16, so that account-wagering and the state’s offtrack betting system will not shut down on Jan. 1, barring a negotiated solution.