By KENNY WALTER
OCEANPORT — Monmouth County and Oceanport officials are hoping to secure a larger piece of the gambling pie for Monmouth Park.
Monmouth County Freeholder Thomas Arnone said during the Aug. 18 Borough Council meeting that the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders needs to take a bigger role in assisting the future health of the racetrack.
“I think the county has to step in,” Arnone said. “This past Sunday, I had an event at the racetrack and I have never seen it like that.
“It was deserted, there was nobody in the bleachers. Granted it was 120 degrees, and I’m sure that had something to do with it, but you still have to open the doors and there becomes a cost to that.”
According to Arnone, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders will draft a letter asking the state to intervene to ensure the health of Monmouth Park.
“We are going to be extremely on this because it was extremely alarming,” Arnone said. “It kind of hit me when I left there that this is unsustainable.”
Monmouth Park has been embroiled in a legal pursuit of sports betting in recent years, which thus far has been rejected by the courts.
While the state has stood behind the pursuit of legalized sports betting, expanded casino gaming has not garnered the same support in recent years. However, a November referendum could pave the way for a North Jersey casino with several locations being discussed.
According to Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey, the referendum was written specifically to cut out Monmouth Park from allowing casino-style gambling.
“This insane limitation that is placed upon the referendum in November that says you can’t have gambling less than 72 miles from Atlantic City,” he said. “That means you can’t have it at Monmouth Park, the most beautiful racetrack this side of Saratoga.
“Trenton just seems to be a place where smart people do stupid things repeatedly at great cost. You have a place that is built for gambling, gamblers go to it, it is wired for gambling, it has a train station that can bring gamblers to it and it has held 60,000 people.”
According to Councilman Joseph Irace, the state has earmarked a percent of the casino revenues for horse racing, but it is only projected to net Monmouth Park $2.5 million annually.
“At this point I’m going to vote ‘no’ unless someone can put something in writing that takes care of Monmouth Park that they were supposed to do originally,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense for the people of Central Jersey or Monmouth County.”
Both Irace and Coffey said the track needs increased revenues in order to raise purses and attract higher quality horses. They also said the track is being put at a competitive disadvantage to racetracks in other states that have casino gaming.
Coffey said the referendum will pit the northern part of the state, which he said will be able to house a successful casino, with the southern part of the state.
“Atlantic City just needs a toe tag, they just haven’t notified the body yet that it’s dead,” he said. “We are caught in the middle between the north and the south.”