03/01/2013 2:42PM

New Jersey extended Ahmed Zayat betting credit, report claims


Ahmed Zayat, the prominent racehorse owner, was allowed to bet on credit through New Jersey’s state-run account-wagering system in violation of state laws, according to a report on a New Jersey website.

Northjersey.com published Zayat’s name after receiving copies of exhibits in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the owners of Freehold Raceway against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. One of the exhibits identifying Zayat as the bettor was later redacted by a judge, and a copy of the lawsuit obtained on Friday did not include the exhibits identifying Zayat by name.

A phone call to Zayat was not returned on Friday, but he was quoted in the story as saying, “The facts are all wrong.”

The lawsuit says that the bettor owed $286,000 to the sports authority as of late January, and that the authority issued a demand that the bettor pay the debt by Jan. 31. Officials of the authority did not immediately respond to phone calls on Friday, but the website report quoted Ralph Marra, the authority’s vice president, as saying, “The debt is satisfied.”

According to the lawsuit, Zayat was regularly extended credit while betting through the system on weekends. An e-mail cited by the lawsuit says that Zayat often bet “$200,000 per weekend,” and if he needed additional funds, the authority would “extend him the courtesy of funding his account with the agreement the funds will be received via wire the next banking day.”

The lawsuit states that extending credit to a customer is in violation of New Jersey law. Statutes for account-wagering in New Jersey state that an account-wagering operator “may not accept an account wager, or a series of account wagers, in an amount in excess of funds on deposit in the wagering account of the holder placing the wager.”

The suit says that the state racing commission has been asked to investigate the matter. Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the state’s racing commission, said on Friday that the commission’s policy “is not to comment regarding these matters, whether we are conducting an investigation or not.”

Zayat, a resident of Teaneck, N.J., owns a large stable of racehorses, including Paynter, the winner of last year’s Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth. In 2010, his racing company, Zayat Stables, filed for bankruptcy protection, and it was later reorganized.

The lawsuit was filed by Penn National Gaming Inc. and Greenwood Racing, which together own Freehold Raceway. The lawsuit contends that Freehold’s representatives have been shut out over the past several years in reviewing and approving agreements made by the authority regarding the operation of the state’s account-wagering system.

Under New Jersey law, the account-wagering system is owned by the state, with revenue distributions assigned to the operators of Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands, and Freehold. Monmouth and Meadowlands have been leased to private operators over the past several years, and the suit outlines a raft of decisions made by the authority to manage the account-wagering system in the wake of the leasing agreements.

In a statement released Friday that the authority said should not be attributed to any specific official, the authority said that it “vigorously disputes the allegations in the complaint” and that “the two parties plan to meet in an effort to resolve any remaining differences.”

The evidence that the account-wagering system was extending credit was uncovered as Freehold’s owners gathered material for the suit, according to officials. Penn National is a publicly traded company with casino licenses in a dozen states, and it is sensitive to matters that could be construed as violating gambling laws.

Chris McErlean, the vice president of racing at Penn National, said that the suit arose out of “long-simmering issues between us and the authority with their compliance with the participation agreements” for the operation of the account-wagering system. He said that since the lawsuit has been filed, the authority has indicated it wishes to settle or mediate the issues brought up by the suit.

One of the issues in the suit is an agreement reached late last year to award a contract to manage the account-wagering operation to TVG, the account-wagering and horserace broadcasting company owned by Betfair. TVG took over operation of the system on Friday under the contract. McErlean said that Freehold’s representatives were not allowed to provide input on the decision to award the contract to TVG.