02/26/2011 12:22PM

New Jersey governor wants to lease out Monmouth Park for 2011 meet


Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey plans to ask private companies to submit bids to lease the state’s Monmouth Park for the 2011 racing season, the governor announced late on Friday.

The state will issue a request for proposals from interested companies next week, Christie’s office said in a release. Monmouth Park is currently owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which also owns the Meadowlands racetrack and the stadium used by the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.

Christie has been critical of the authority’s operating losses over the past several years, and he has said that taxpayers will no longer subsidize the authority’s racing operations. The state is currently attempting to negotiate a lease of the Meadowlands with harness owners.

“I want to see a vibrant but self-sustaining horse racing industry in New Jersey, but that can be accomplished without tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies every year,” Christie said in the release.

Although the state’s racing commission has awarded 141 Thoroughbred racing dates for 2011 to comply with New Jersey racing law, the racing schedule this year remains in limbo because of uncertainty over the situation at both Monmouth and the Meadowlands.

In 2010, Monmouth raced 72 days. For the first 49 days of the meet, Monmouth used a $19 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos to boost purses to $800,000 a day, and racing was limited to Fridays, Saturdays, Sunday, and holidays. Handle and attendance at the track soared, but the subsidy – which was provided by an agreement between the authority and the casinos – expired this year.

According to the state, the authority’s racing operations lost $19 million in 2009. Horsemen have disputed that number, and said that the figure was closer to $12 million. In 2010, the racing operations lost $4 million, despite the increased handle and attendance numbers and the $19 million subsidy.

Racing officials said earlier this week that they were uncertain if Christie planned to offer Monmouth for sale or lease in 2011.

Several news reports have quoted Stephen Burn, the president of Betfair USA, as saying that Betfair would be interested in submitting a bid for Monmouth Park. The British-based company, which purchased Television Games Network in 2009 in order to get a foothold into the U.S., lobbied successfully last year for legislation that legalizes exchange wagering in New Jersey.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Betfair said that the company “has no comment on any potential interest in Monmouth Park.” Betfair operates the largest betting exchange in the world.

The legislation legalizing exchange wagering would require the racetrack operator and horsemen to reach agreement with any betting exchange operator. Betfair has been eager to expand its operations to the U.S., though horsemen and racetracks have expressed concerns about the company’s business model.