01/10/2012 2:32PM

New Jersey lawmakers pass offtrack betting bill

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The New Jersey legislature on Monday night passed a bill authorizing offtrack betting in as many as 12 bars or restaurants in the state, a measure that was supported by racing interests as a low-cost expansion of the state’s limited offtrack betting network.

The bill, which is likely to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, would allow 12 bars and restaurants in counties concentrated in northern New Jersey to apply for offtrack betting permits, with the approval of racetrack operators. Offtrack betting locations were previously restricted to facilities identified by the state’s racing interests, but only three of the legally allowed 15 locations have opened despite authorization for nearly a decade.

Jeff Gural, a real-estate developer who is currently leasing the Meadowlands from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, had pressed for the measure as a way to expand the state’s offtrack betting network quickly. Under the bill, offtrack betting at bars and restaurants would be legal for the next three years, after which the New Jersey State Racing Commission will be required to produce a study of the policy’s impact.

Also on Monday, the legislature passed a separate bill that would require racetrack licensees to “show progress” by early next year on expanding the state’s OTB network or risk forfeiting a $1 million bond to the state’s horsemen’s groups and the licenses to operate the OTB’s. The bill – which includes an exemption for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the current operator of Monmouth Park – requires horsemen to use the bond to pursue offtrack betting, and the bond would revert back to the racetrack licensee if the horsemen also cannot “show progress” after a year.