09/19/2006 11:00PM

Symposium focuses on purses

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The need for unity and concern for the future were the major themes at the first New Jersey Horse Industry Symposium, held Wednesday at Monmouth Park.

The symposium was the initial event for the New Jersey Horse Industry Alliance, a newly formed coalition that represents all aspects of the state's equine interests. The symposium started with Monmouth barn tours at 8 a.m. and concluded with comments from General Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.

The panel on the legislative process attracted keen interest from the estimated 250 attendees. There were a dozen legislators in the room, and eight addressed the crowd. Some, like assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, said they were strongly in favor of video lottery terminals at the Meadowlands Racetrack. All pledged support for the racing industry and the need for long-range funding to support purses.

The current four-year supplement agreement with the Atlantic City casinos has pushed purses to record levels. Monmouth Park paid overnight purses of $330,000 a day during the core portion of the meet, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That figure goes to $335,000 in 2007, the final year of the deal.

Tracks in New Jersey face increased pressure for 2008 and beyond to have purses that are competitive with video lottery terminal- and slots-assisted tracks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Roberts carries considerable weight in the debate over racing's future in New Jersey. He told the attendees not to bank exclusively on video lottery terminals in the face of strongly expressed opposition from the Atlantic City casinos.

"Just as we have a lot of people working in the horse racing industry, we have a lot people working in the casino gaming industry, as well as billions and billions of dollars of economic investment," Roberts said. "We have to be mindful of that, as well."

Roberts was unequivocal in supporting the racing industry.

"One thing I think there is universal commitment to is the following: making sure that the money is there so that purses are adequate in the state of New Jersey," Roberts said.

Roberts suggested video lottery terminals were only one possible solution. He held out the possibility of a new purse supplement from the casinos or the creation of "some other vehicle to raise money in Atlantic City and dedicate it to horse racing."

Roberts said the concern about racing's future extends all the way up the executive ladder to Gov. Jon Corzine.

"He knows we have to find a way to ensure our racing is competitive," Roberts said. "He's willing to help."

A major goal of the New Jersey Horse Industry Alliance is to speak to the governor and legislators with a unified voice. The founding members were the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey, the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, and the Rutgers University Equine Science Center.

"We've learned that we can't do anything unless we speak with one voice," said Dennis Drazin, president of the alliance. "We need to be on the same page when we go for legislation. It may not be perfect for everything your group is trying to achieve, but it should be the perfect blend for the industry."