07/05/2006 12:00AM

No budget, no gambling in New Jersey


OCEANPORT, N.J. - All live, simulcast, and account wagering in New Jersey ceased Wednesday as the state's budget crisis continued for a fifth day and jeopardized Monmouth Park's premier turf race, the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes on Saturday.

The shutdown is taking a heavy toll on the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth and the Meadowlands.

The Meadowlands canceled its Wednesday night harness card, the second straight program lost due to the shutdown of state government.

A decision on whether Monmouth would hold its next scheduled card Thursday afternoon was scheduled to be made early Thursday morning.

"Given the hour-to-hour nature of the negotiations, we will take each program day by day," said Chris McErlean, the authority's vice president for racing operations.

On Wednesday, the budget crisis showed no sign of resolution. If anything, the crisis deepened with the closing of all 12 Atlantic City casinos. It was the first mass closure in the resort city's 28-year history of legal casino gambling.

With the tracks, casinos, and state lottery shut, there is no legal gambling anywhere in New Jersey.

Gov. Jon Corzine and the legislators remain at odds over Corzine's plan to hike the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent to close a $4.5 billion budget deficit. When the constitutional deadline of July 1 passed without a balanced budget, Corzine ordered a shutdown of "non-essential" state agencies, including the New Jersey Racing Commission and the Casino Control Commission. By state statute, gambling can not take place without on-site inspectors. Corzine has refused requests to add gaming regulators to the list of essential services working through the government shutdown.

Both houses of the legislature were called in for a budget session on July 4 that produced no compromise. They remained in session Wednesday with the resumption of racing depending on passage of a budget.

Strong field expected for U.N.

The Monmouth race office was scheduled to open Thursday morning to take entries for the Saturday card, which includes the U.N.

It could be a pointless exercise if the budget crisis continues, and a shame because the 1 3/8-mile U.N. is shaping up an excellent race.

Defending U.N. winner Better Talk Now is on target, as is his "rabbit," stablemate Shake the Bank, to ensure an honest pace.

Three of the top four finishers from Belmont Park's Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap are pointing toward the U.N.: Cacique, the winner; Relaxed Gesture, the hard-luck loser by a head; and English Channel, who was fourth by only a half-length in the blanket finish.

Silverfoot, last year's runner-up, and Ramazutti complete the expected field.

* Trainer Terri Pompay has three horses entered at Monmouth on Friday and two of the runners - Letters in the third race and Iwoman in the eighth - are solid favorites.

"This is why I'm here," Pompay said. "In Florida in the winter, you just try to get by. Here is where you make your money and, obviously, I really want to run."