04/18/2002 11:00PM

New Jersey dates battle settled


New Jersey racing officials and horsemen announced Friday that they have reached a three-year agreement on racing dates and pledged to aggressively pursue the establishment of offtrack betting and telephone and internet wagering.

Under the agreement, Monmouth and The Meadowlands will hold a combined 141 live racing dates in each of the next three years. Monmouth and The Meadowlands will also pay horsemen $3.3 million this year to cover an underpayment last year and to settle a dispute on simulcasting distributions.

The agreement closes a long-running battle between the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands. The two groups have been at odds since January, when the racing commission awarded the authority only 120 Thoroughbred dates over the objections of the horsemen.

In response, the horsemen filed a lawsuit against the racing commission and threatened to withdraw their approval for full-card simulcasting beginning with Monmouth's live meet. The lawsuit was dropped as part of the settlement.

"It's been a long hard fight," said Dennis Drazin, the legal counsel to the horsemen. "But the horsemen felt it was necessary to get live-racing protections."

Monmouth Park will run a 78-day live meet this year, from May 11-Sept. 1, with The Meadowlands beginning Sept. 2 and running through Nov. 23. In 2003, Monmouth will hold a 92-day meet, from April 26-Aug. 31, and The Meadowlands will hold a 49-day meet, from Sept. 1 to Nov. 8.

New Jersey currently has no offtrack betting or telephone wagering, but a law passed in 2001 legalized the two practices as long as the tracks in the state scheduled 141 live racing days. Since the new agreement meets that minimum number of live dates, horsemen and track officials said they would now be quick to pursue the new forms of wagering.

Drazin said the tracks and horsemen hope to have a telephone-wagering system available in the state by the end of October, in time for the Breeders' Cup. Other officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that an interim phone-betting system operated by Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania could be up and running within the next 60 days.

Bruce Garland, the executive vice president for racing of the authority, said that the tracks "have some options and general alternatives to consider" in regard to phone wagering, but he said the authority had not reached a firm decision on how the system would be implemented.

Offtrack betting parlors would take much longer than a phone-wagering system to get up and running, officials said. The facilities would need to get local zoning approvals and licenses before construction could begin, leading racing officials to believe that the first OTB is at least a year and a half away from opening.