Unsubsidized: The Uncertain Future of Monmouth Park

My memories of growing up and living on the New Jersey coast have always included summer days at Monmouth Park watching thoroughbred horse racing. The race track has been a gathering place for families and groups of friends to get together for a day outside in the sunny, seemingly endless weekends.

The news from this past week regarding the new Oceanport town council and their concern for the future of Monmouth Park is very troubling to long time Shore area residents like myself. New Jersey has no subsidy from the state for horse racing, and rising operational costs are a looming threat to the future of world class thoroughbred racing in the Garden State.

Monmouth Park opened almost 150 years ago and is an iconic place to visit and spend a day at the races. The park entered an agreement with Resorts Casino at one point to attempt to merge the operation of the track with on-site casino game gambling. This measure has been blocked and has faced a number of hurdles in New Jersey.

The local news reports that without a subsidy of some type either from gambling revenues from introduction of slot machines and games at the track or from sports betting, the prognosis is not good for the future of Monmouth Park.

The sports betting has been argued all the way up to the Supreme Court and is awaiting a final verdict. A decision by the court in the affirmative would permit gambling on all sporting events from all the major professional sports and major college sports games to be legal in New Jersey. This would benefit a facility such as Monmouth Park in a substantial manner.

In one estimate, if sports betting was legalized, it estimated Monmouth Park to have a total gambling revenue per season of $50 million, of which the facility would get a 50% share because they would have to split the betting revenues with another party, should the measure be approved.

That cut of revenue at $25 million would be a very beneficial subsidy to the operational costs of running the facility. The town of Oceanport has a great deal at stake because Monmouth Park accounts for 20% of their municipal tax base. In the event that the state does not provide a subsidy and the race track fails, that is a huge tax revenue shortfall.

It should be noted that the surrounding states in the region: Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and Maryland all have a subsidy from their respective state to help with the operation of horse racing.

The horse racing industry has changed, I remember back in my younger days, Monmouth Park had a horse racing card every day during the summer through Labor Day weekend. The “meet” schedule for the year then changed to three to four days a week as the approach shifted to having fewer racing cards but with bigger purses, or better- quality races.

Then, the industry shifted again, and over the past few years, the racing “meet” schedule for the season has racing cards two days a week from the opening weekend in May through July 4th weekend before it goes to three days of racing per week. Then, it adds Thursdays in August to the meet schedule.

The reduction in the number of days of operation for full racing cards was needed throughout the horse racing industry, but is an absolute necessity in New Jersey without a state provided subsidy.

New Jersey is home to a numerous horse farms and equestrian training centers, yet it could be without a horse racing operation. That would translate to lost jobs, lost revenue, and the end of many different traditions for families who spend time at the track together.

I find it all very sad on a personal level, Monmouth Park, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, is a place where I spent time with my family and with family members who visited in the summer from outside the area. It was where I spent time with my friends on a day off from a summer job in my high school and college years. It was where I went on a sunny Sunday when my wife and I were dating, to spend a day outside doing something fun.

It is sad to think that Monmouth Park may not be there for future generations, the future is uncertain, and the path forward is unclear. The new racing schedule was released recently with the 50th edition of the famed Haskell Invitational race which is broadcast nationally on NBC coming our way on July 30th this year.

It is my sincere hope that the state officials, the Supreme Court, and local officials can all work together with the partners involved to find a long term solution to Monmouth Park to keep the doors open for years to come.