New Jersey is back in the horse racing business.
The return of state support is good news for tracks that have struggled to compete with rivals in adjacent states that offer casino gambling as well.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Thursday providing $20 million to help boost racing prizes this year. Although the legislation calls for $20 million each year for the next five years, future subsidies will depend on how each year's budget shapes up.
The action by the Democratic governor restores state subsidies that were ended by his Republican predecessor Chris Christie in 2011.
The state had been giving tracks $30 million a year in return for them not offering casino gambling, which remains restricted by law to Atlantic City. Christie ended those payments, directing the money to help Atlantic City deal with its declining finances.
Ever since, the racing industry has struggled. Two tracks, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, just outside New York City, and Monmouth Park, in Oceanport, near the Jersey shore, have also been offering sports betting since last summer. Freehold Raceway plans to do so this year as well.
"For the last 10 years, New Jersey has fallen behind New York, Pennsylvania, and others due to the uncompetitive environment in which we found ourselves," said Mike Gulotta, treasurer of the New Jersey Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association. "This legislation will create jobs and renew interest and investment in New Jersey, specifically in farm lands. It will prove to be a great investment by the state."
The money will be allocated by the New Jersey Racing Commission equally between the thoroughbred industry and the Standardbred industry. The thoroughbred funds will go toward Monmouth Park overnight purses.
Of the funds allocated to the Standardbred industry, 60 percent will be allocated to Meadowlands overnight purses, 16 percent to Freehold overnight purses, 12 percent to the New Jersey Sire Stakes purses, 6 percent to purse bonuses for New Jersey sired horses, and 6 percent for breeders awards purses.
The recipients will have to report to the state each year on how they used the money.
"New Jersey's horse racing industry is a key economic engine, supporting thousands of jobs and attracting tourists and fans from around the world," the governor said. "Our state has a long and proud history of horse racing, and we must recapture our competitive edge in the industry. With this funding, New Jersey can continue to offer one of the most exciting horse racing experiences in the nation, while also providing a boost to an industry that is integral to our economy."
Dennis Drazin, CEO of Darby Development, LLC, which operates Monmouth Park, said New Jersey's horse racing industry supports 13,000 jobs and helps preserve 176,000 acres of land as open space.