By KAREN RAPOLLA
While New Jersey voters rejected the casino expansion on Nov. 8, Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey and Oceanport Borough Council President Joe Irace are actively looking forward to what lies ahead in Monmouth Park’s future.
Coffey and Irace were urging voters to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling, and Irace said public ballot Question 1, even if it had passed, was doomed to fail.
“Unfortunately, when the powers that be in Trenton got together and crafted this referendum, not only was it poorly worded, but it specifically left Monmouth Park out by saying (any new casino) had to be 72 miles from Atlantic City. Monmouth Park is 69 miles as the crow flies,” explained Irace.
“It’s pretty amazing how clearly the people of the state of New Jersey have spoken to our legislators about how uncomfortable they were with how unclear the language of the constitutional amendment was. The voters saw through Trenton’s subterfuge on this issue,” said Coffey.
Coffey would like to see amended bills authorizing video lottery terminals at racetracks, including Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands in East Rutherford.
“What should happen now is that some smart, business savvy, politically aware legislators should get together and craft real legislation that actually spells out where the gaming sites will be located, how many there will be, what types of gaming will be offered at each of the sites, how the sites will be taxed and how the tax money will be spent,” he said.
“Indeed, Monmouth Park, the most beautiful racetrack on the East Coast, is ideally situated and suited for a gaming site co-located within its facility. Surrounding states are replete with examples of the fiscal viability of co-locating gaming and horse-racing facilities.
“For Pete’s sake, Monmouth Park, [which] has its own train stop, parking lots galore [and] is already cited for nationwide gambling via its off-track wagering facilities, can hold 40,000 people, is conveniently located two miles from the beach in the center of the state, 90 minutes from New York City by train and it has been catering to gamblers for over 70 years, but Trenton had proposed legislation that specifically excluded it from being considered as a site for gaming,” Coffey said.
Irace pointed out Oceanport’s stance.
“Oceanport has always felt that Monmouth Park and New Jersey horse racing and breeding needed to be preserved in any expanded gaming legislation in order to put us on an even playing field with surrounding states. The referendum clearly did not do that,” Irace said.
Irace and Coffey are in favor of expanding gaming in the state of New Jersey, but hold firm in their position that gamblers want “convenience gaming.”
“People want to drive a half hour, do their gaming and then go home,” said Irace, citing the failed Revel casino as an example of the “failed Atlantic City plan.”
“Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland — they all have casinos at their racetracks,” said Irace, naming the Parx casino at the former Philadelphia Park racetrack in Bucks County as an example. “It’s one giant gaming facility right off the highway within a stone’s throw of New Jersey. Why not put just casinos at the racetracks?”
Irace recommends adding video slot machines to the park as a win-win for both the future of Monmouth Park and the state of New Jersey.
“Why make this whole rigamarole of putting billion dollar casinos in spots where there are no established gaming places? There’s already bets being taken at Monmouth Park for horses. There’s infrastructure in place, and it would be a quick process to add video slot machines to the park,” he said.
Irace looks to a new governor and legislative leadership to change the state’s gaming strategy to more of a “New Jersey versus the other states” instead of North Jersey versus South Jersey in regards to gaming.
“When the leadership starts to shift and they see how much money is out there for something outside of Atlantic City, I think you’re going to see more legislators come to the table,” said Irace.
“I hope somebody from our District, perhaps Declan O’Scanlon, can get legislation that includes Monmouth Park started right away. I know that whoever takes on this task will have the enthusiastic and unbridled support of the Borough of Oeanport and, if I may be so bold as to speak on their behalf, the Monmouth County Freeholders,” said Coffey.
“Oceanport is happy that the poorly written gambling referendum was defeated. We have already begun working with members of the Legislature, who think, like us, that slot machines should be placed at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands,” he said.