07/06/2006 12:00AM

New Jersey racing ready to resume


The path has been cleared for racing in New Jersey to reopen after Gov. Jon Corzine and state legislators agreed to the framework of a new state budget Thursday that will allow for the resumption of state government.

How soon racing, and the other forms of legal gambling that were closed by the budget impasse, can resume was not immediately clear, but it appeared that Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park will be run as scheduled.

Corzine announced the budget deal in a Thursday afternoon press conference in the state capital of Trenton. He said that the process of reopening state government will take time.

"Once a bill incorporating these principles is passed by both houses, we can begin the orderly process of reopening all facets of government and the private sector that have been forced to shutter," Corzine said. "I expect that to occur within the next 24 to 36 hours."

The status of Monmouth's Friday card remained uncertain as of Thursday evening. Monmouth lost its Thursday card to the government shutdown, and the toll was worse at the Meadowlands, which lost three harness programs through Thursday night.

The budget crisis began when the constitutional deadline of July 1 passed without a balanced budget. Corzine ordered a shutdown of "nonessential" state agencies, including the New Jersey Racing Commission and the Casino Control Commission. By state statute, gambling cannot take place without on-site inspectors.

Corzine refused requests to add gaming regulators to the list of essential services functioning through the government shutdown.

In separate legal actions, the casinos and the state's horsemen won court orders that kept the casinos and Monmouth open through the Fourth of July holiday.

Monmouth and the Meadowlands, which are owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, were awaiting word Thursday as to when the racing commission's supervisory personnel would return to work.

"We're glad to see there is an agreement in principle," said Chris McErlean, the authority's vice president for both tracks. "We're ready to go. We can't proceed until the commission employees are told to come back to work.

"The races are drawn. The programs are printed. Everything is in place. We still don't have the regulators."

McErlean said a decision on Monmouth's Friday card would be made early Friday morning. An announcement on the Meadowlands's Friday night card was expected early that afternoon.

The state government shutdown had forced the suspension of all live racing, simulcasting, and account wagering in the state as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

By 8 a.m. Wednesday, the 12 casinos in Atlantic City were closed. With the lottery suspended on Saturday, there was a total embargo on legal gambling in New Jersey.

Corzine and the legislators were locked in a battle over Corzine's demand for a hike in the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent to close a $4.5 billion budget deficit.

Ultimately, the legislators capitulated. Corzine got the sales tax increase.