11/07/2016 4:30PM

New Jersey horsemen reverse position on casino ballot measure


New Jersey’s horsemen have reached an agreement that would guarantee that the state’s Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries receive tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from a casino located at The Meadowlands if voters on Tuesday approve a longshot measure that ultimately results in a casino at the track, the horsemen said late on Monday.

The agreement, reached with less than 24 hours to go until polls open, caused the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to do an abrupt about-face on the Tuesday ballot question, which asks voters whether they approve of two new casinos in northern New Jersey. Previously, the NJTHA had urged its members to oppose the measure, citing its lack of support for horse racing, but in an e-mail on Monday, the association instead said it was “urging New Jersey voters to cast a ‘yes’ vote on Question 1 tomorrow.”

The ballot question does not specify where the casinos would be located, but The Meadowlands, which is operated under a long-term lease with the state by the real-estate developer Jeff Gural, is considered to be a leading contender for a license if the ballot question is approved, given Gural’s influence in the state capital and the Meadowlands’s proximity to Manhattan. Polls have consistently shown that the measure lacks enough support to pass, however.

Supporters of the measure, including Gural, suspended their advertising campaign at the end of September as an acknowledgment of the strength of the opposition. Since then, the poll numbers for support have only gotten worse: The most recent polling shows that 70 percent of voters oppose the measure.

Under the deal reached on Monday, if the Meadowlands obtains a casino license under the measure, the Meadowlands would provide $30 million in purses for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing each year and contribute $5 million a year to pay operating expenses at Monmouth Park. In addition, the Meadowlands would use $2 million a year to pay for both dirt and turf racing at the Meadowlands beginning in 2019.