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Monday, November 10, 2008

Subsidy With Stings Attached

- Trouble at Freehold Raceway, the daytime half-mile harness track in the New Jersey town of the same name. The track's owner, Pennwood Racing, a partnership consisting of, appropriately enough, Penn National and Greenwood (and there's some corporate ingenuity for you...I bet they'd be good at naming foals too), has refused to sign off on the Atlantic City casino subsidy agreement that would provide $1.6 million in badly-needed purse money. That's right, they won't take the dough.

Tom LaMarra reported on the situation for late last week; the piece is typical of that website's detailed reporting on some of the more tangential stories that may not be covered in the other trades. The thoroughbred tangent here is that Greenwood also owns Atlantic City Race Course, which was not included in the Purse Enhancement Agreement with the casinos, but would like to be.

But the main point is that Pennwood is declining to sign the agreement for Freehold because it would prohibit the companies from pursuing gaming opportunities in the unlikely event New Jersey were to expand gambling outside of Atlantic City. Not that the casinos would ever permit that. But just in case.

The Standardbred Owners Association of New Jersey [SBOANJ], in a release, said Joe Corbo of the New Jersey Casino Association indicated the casinos probably wouldn’t agree to give Freehold its cut of the subsidy unless PNGI and Greenwood signed the agreement. SBOANJ legal counsel Joel Sterns told Freehold officials the track could end up closing should purses not be supplemented.

“The SBOANJ is prepared to pull authorization for simulcasting signals at Freehold, and will be notifying Freehold that its deadline will now be Nov. 13,” SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said in a statement. [Bloodhorse]
The horsemen will be meeting on Tuesday at the track. As noted by Standardbred Canada, they are playing hardball.
“The refusal of Pennwood Racing to accept $1.6 million in casino supplement funds for Freehold’s purses is endangering the future of racing at Freehold and the infrastructure of farms, training centers and related industries that have flourished in the state." [SBOANJ]
Now I certainly don't want to see Freehold close. It has a place in my heart as one of the racetracks of my formative degenerate years. Unfortunately, that Freehold burned down in 1984, and the replacement building is like a mini-Meadowlands, lacking the character that the old building had. But it's still Freehold, and it's a venerable racetrack with a long history stretching back for over 150 years.

But having said that, I can't really blame Pennwood for balking at signing this agreement. LaMarra reports that they were not part of the negotiations which led to the agreement. Bad enough that the AC casino owners have the clout and the arrogance to prevent the tracks from competing with the surrounding states with slots. Being singled out for these further competitive restrictions has to be a bitter pill for Pennwood to swallow. So I think they have every right to bitch and moan. However, the notion that there will ever really be casinos outside of Atlantic City seems merely fanciful; and if it ever did happen, it would surely result from the kind of sea change in the casinos' political influence that could very well render the agreement null and void anyhow.

So hopefully, should fighting the good fight not bear fruit, Pennwood will do the right thing and let Freehold live. After all, we wouldn't want ol' Stanley Dancer to be looking down on no shopping mall.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Can Pennwood still operate its OTB parlors in NJ without live racing at Freehold? Because if it can, why go through the troubles of running a racing operation if you don't have to?