10/19/2010 1:51PM

New Jersey horsemen in favor of two proposals by Democrats

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A set of recommendations released by Democrats in the New Jersey Senate that would legalize exchange wagering and streamline the approval process for local offtrack betting outlets was met with limited approval from state racing officials on Tuesday.

The recommendations were released on Monday by the Senate Democrats in order to provide a framework for negotiations on a bill that is expected to be crafted later this year to address the deteriorating condition of the state’s racing and casino industries. Earlier this year, a panel commissioned by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who was elected last year on a platform emphasizing fiscal restraint , called for an end to state support for the racing industry and a restructuring of the regulatory framework for Atlantic City casinos.

Representatives of the state’s horsemen and officials at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, said on Tuesday that they welcomed any legislative changes that would ease the approval process for offtrack betting parlors. Current legislation allows for 15 offtrack betting parlors, but only three have opened so far, in part because of the lengthy process to get local zoning approvals, officials said.

The current laws “have made it very difficult to site any other offtrack betting locations, so that would be a tremendous step forward,” said John Samerjan, a spokesman for the authority, which is a state agency.

The recommendation to legalize exchange wagering furthers an effort begun earlier this year to sanction the practice, which remains controversial throughout the racing industry. In the summer, the state’s General Assembly passed a bill legalizing exchange wagering, but the bill has not been addressed by the state Senate.

Exchange wagering allows bettors to post prices on horses and accept bets from other gamblers. Although legislation was passed in California several months ago legalizing exchange wagering in the state beginning in 2012, many racing officials believe that the practice will run into difficulties if the Justice Department scrutinizes the legality of the practice under existing federal prohibitions.

Racing officials in the state said that negotiations are ongoing between representatives of the racing and casino industries, the legislature, and Gov. Christie on the form of an omnibus bill. The legislation could be introduced late this year, though it is possible that negotiations will continue through early next year, the officials said.

This year, the authority slashed its live horse racing dates in half and used a $17 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos to boost purses during a 50-day meet at Monmouth to approximately $800,000 a day. The subsidy expired this year.

Although the recommendations by the Senate Democrats did not include any support for additional subsidies, racing officials said that legislators remain privately open to state financial support for racing in the final legislation. The state is facing a $10.7 billion budget deficit.