09/21/2010 12:54PM

Two voices of reason call for help for New Jersey horsemen


TUCSON, Ariz. – A strong new moderated voice of reason was heard in recent days in the bitter north-south debate on racing in New Jersey, and hopefully both it and an eloquent plea to Gov. Chris Christie from Sweden will receive consideration.

The New Jersey voice was that of Raymond Bateman, who like Jon Hanson, the author of the harsh report that triggered this battle, is a former chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. He also is a past president of the New Jersey Senate.

The Swedish letter to the governor came from one of Europe’s most successful businesswomen, Margareta Wallenius-Kleberg, the majority owner of Wallenius Lines, a global car-shipping company that frequently makes Newark a port of call under the name of Wallenius-Wilhelmsen Line. She wrote to the governor, however, as a horse owner and breeder who races a stable of trotters in both Sweden and North America, maintains a major breeding farm with mares and foals in Kentucky, and is chairman of the breeding association in Sweden and a director of the Hambletonian Society in the U.S.

Bateman’s op-ed letter was published in CentralJersey.com. It states early on that “The focus on saving Atlantic City casinos embraced by Gov. Christie is flat-out wrong public policy. It flies in the face of a history of huge subsidies to Atlantic City….While the Hanson report talks of current Meadowlands and Sports Authority losses up to $30 million this year, nowhere does it discuss in detail the hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies already poured into Atlantic City and the casino industry.”

Bateman then highlights a few. “The state’s tax on casino revenues is one of the lowest in the nation and a little more than half the casino tax in Pennsylvania. Gov. Whitman had a $300 million tunnel and roadway built to the Borgata casino; Gov. Florio ‘ordered’ the Sports Authority to build and operate (always at a loss) a new $275 million convention center in Atlantic City; later the west hall of the old convention center was rebuilt by the same authority for more than $100 million; a special train for gamblers from Philadelphia to Atlantic City was bought and paid for at New Jersey expense and operates annually at a loss, as does the ACES train express from New York; two new bus terminals were built (for the casinos, of course); and the huge state police presence in Atlantic City was not totally paid for by the casinos. The Atlantic City airport was improved with state and federal funds. When casinos comp gamblers in their rooms they do not pay the state hotel room tax – a big number loss each year to the state. No question that the casinos have enjoyed sweetheart relationships with all past governors and legislatures. Sad, but true. And now they want more and are still unwilling to compromise on slots at the Meadowlands, or on help for the horse industry – both essentially North Jersey concerns.”

Bateman thinks there should be a casino at the Meadowlands “operated by Atlantic City casinos for a piece of the pie,” privatization of Monmouth Park, and construction of the 12 authorized but unbuilt OTB ventures in the state. He has no problem with helping Atlantic City, but says a casino tax increase is needed, pointing out that two Connecticut casinos “pay almost as much revenue to the Connecticut state government as the totals to Trenton from all 11 Atlantic City casinos.

Wallenius-Kleberg, in her letter to Gov. Christie, expresses the surprise felt in Europe “that you might even think of closing the Meadowlands, the flagship of all harness tracks in the U.S. and something New Jersey should be very proud of,” citing it and Vincennses in Paris and Solvalla in Stockholm as three of the world’s most important tracks.

She notes New Jersey’s training facilities that dot the state and its breeding farms that are world leaders, standing “some of the best stallions in the world, attracting the finest mares, not only in the States but from Canada and also from Europe.” She points out that many of the resulting foals are sold in New Jersey, and that the sales and Hambletonian attracts buyers from all over the world. “All of these activities,” she writes, “produce revenue and good publicity for New Jersey.”

Wallenius-Kleberg reminds the governor of thousands of jobs that will be lost, hundreds of top stallions and mares that will be moved to other states, and the destruction of the breeding industry in New Jersey and its impact worldwide. She concludes, “There must be a reasonable way to solve this problem to the benefit of all.”

A reasonable solution was in essence what Gov. Christie promised as a candidate when he spoke to horsemen at a major fund-raiser at owner-breeder Mike Gulotta’s state-of-the-art Deo Volente farm in Flemington before last year’s election.

That’s all the horsemen were seeking then, and it’s all they’re looking for now.