NJ Legislature Approves $20M Horse Betting Subsidy

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New Jersey lawmakers approved two horse betting bills on Friday to stabilize and financially support the racing industry.

Both houses of the legislature voted to extend an annual $20 million subsidy for horse racing purses. The Friday votes on Assembly Bill A2610 and Senate Bill S3203 were unanimous.

In 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy approved an initial $100 million over five years to support purses, a move that the horse betting industry applauded. This latest bill extends those funds for another five years.

Horse betting industry gets funding

The $20 million subsidy will come from the state’s general fund. Half of it will go to Monmouth Park to support thoroughbred purses, with harness racing getting the other half.

“This $10 million helps us remain competitive with other East Coast tracks and attract top-quality horses to New Jersey,” Dennis Drazin, CEO of Monmouth Park, told LSR on Monday. “Gov. Murphy has always had the industry’s back, and we expect him to sign the bill.”

The funding will strictly subsidize racing purses. It will not support track operations at Monmouth Park, which recently broke ground on a new in-person Caesars Sportsbook.

What typically funds horse racing purses?

Higher purses typically attract the best horses, which then attracts more horseplayers. More horse betting, in turn, drives more revenue for the tracks to fund purses, operations, and development projects.

According to The Jockey Club, Monmouth Park paid out $28.4 million in purses last year across 541 races. In 2010, Monmouth Park worked with the state government to offer, on average, $1 million per day in purses across 50 racing days.

“If we can get back to that $1 million per day for 50 days, we’d be good, but we just can’t get there right now,” Drazin said. “If we had a casino or slots, then it would be doable, but right now, we’re handicapped by the lack of (additional gaming) revenue.”

Horse betting purses peaked years ago

In the last 20 years, racing purses peaked in the mid-2000s, with $67.8 million awarded in 2007. In 2003, nearly 1,200 thoroughbred races were run in New Jersey, but that number has been cut in half recently.

“We want to run more, but having more races means we could not be as competitive with purses,” Drazin said.

He added that Monmouth Park has seen a solid start to its season this year. Horse betting handle on Haskell Preview Day June 16 was nearly $10.8 million.

It was the highest figure in the last 15 years outside of Haskell Day, which is always its most popular day for attendance and betting in late July. Drazin credits a lot of the handle success this year to the track’s broadcast partnership with FOX Sports.

Could additional revenue be coming?

Drazin wants to bring additional gaming to New Jersey to compete with the future casinos planned around New York City.

He added that the hope is to find a way to keep that business in New Jersey. He suggested a casino or slot machines at the Meadowlands or Monmouth Park as an option.

Both racetracks currently have retail sportsbooks on-site.

NJ sports betting at horse tracks

The in-person FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands has generated $184.5 million in revenue since opening in July 2018. The location produced around $25 million in NJ sports betting revenue last year alone, more than in 20 other states in 2023.

The Caesars Sportsbook at Monmouth Park has nearly $40.7 million in lifetime revenue.

“The fact of the matter is horse racing in New Jersey wouldn’t be able to survive right now without sports betting,” Drazin said.

The tracks receive some of those sports betting proceeds to support overall operations.

Second horse betting bill passes

The New Jersey legislature also approved bill S3455 on Friday, allowing for the automatic renewal of off-track betting licenses.

The bill, which passed the Senate by a 40-0 vote and the Assembly with a 70-1 vote, still allows the racing commission to cite operators for noncompliance.

The automatic renewal mainly simplifies the licensing process.

Photo by Shutterstock/D Snyder