A package of bills stemming from the Legislative Democrats’ Joint Gaming Summit held earlier this year which would help stabilize and revitalize the State’s ailing horse racing and casino gaming industries was approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee today.

“Today’s action in the State Government Committee was only the first part of a comprehensive plan to make New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks more economically productive,” said Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and chair of the committee. “The fact remains that gaming and wagering represent a substantial part of our State’s economy, and employ thousands of State residents from every corner of New Jersey. We have a responsibility to give our State’s casinos and racetracks the tools they need to be economically competitive with facilities in neighboring states, but also to ensure that the industry can remain sustainable for the future.”

The first bill in the package, S-829, sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey, would authorize the New Jersey Racing Commission to issue a license to the Sports and Exposition Authority to establish an exchange wagering system in New Jersey. Under the proposed system, which would allow New Jersey residents who are at least 18 years of age to open an account, bettors would be able to set up exchange wagering accounts, and two or more bettors would be able to place directly opposing wagers on the outcome of a horse race or races. Exchange wagering differs from the existing pari-mutuel betting taking place at horse tracks in the State in that bettors are matched directly with opposing bettors, as opposed to betting against odds that are set by the licensed race track operator. Under the bill, bets could be paired against opposing wagers in New Jersey or any other state which has a legal exchange wagering system. Exchange wagering could also be set up so that bettors can place their bets in person at the racetrack, by direct telephone call, or by communication through some other electronic medium, including over the Internet.

“Unless we do something to make horse racing in New Jersey relevant in the 21st century, we’re going to see more and more revenue go out-of-state as New Jersey residents head for the borders to place their bets,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “Exchange wagering is one way to inject some excitement into New Jersey horse racing, and hopefully, get more people to place their bets in-state. We need to be open to other ways of boosting our ailing horse racing industry, but I think exchange wagering will be a significant step in the right direction to put the horse racing industry on surer financial footing.”

The second bill in the package, S-1980, sponsored by Senator Paul A. Sarlo, would make various changes to the State’s “Off-Track and Account Wagering Act,” to ensure that off-track wagering (OTW) facilities are being built in New Jersey. Under current law, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and private racetracks are permitted to develop 15 (OTW) parlors throughout the State. Under Senator Sarlo’s bill, the 15 current permit holders would have to show progress by January 1 2012, or those permits would revert to the horsemen organizations, and if the horsemen organizations cannot show progress, the permits would go to the open market, to allow any private investor to bid on the development rights for those facilities.

“Off-track wagering has been a proven economic benefit in the three locations where they’ve been allowed to operate, posting profits every year since they’ve been in place,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “However, under the current system, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is the sole entity eligible to build these facilities, and as a result, we’ve seen a lag in construction and development, despite the established economic benefits. This bill is intended to break the logjam of development for OTW parlors, and spur economic activity in areas of the State where live racing just isn’t practical.”

The third bill, S-2229, sponsored by Senator Codey, would allow racetracks to combine all wagers placed on the results of one or more runnings or harness horse races into a single pari-mutuel pool. By creating larger pari-mutuel pools, racetracks can handle a greater variety of wagers and reduce the adverse effect of large pay-outs to the racetrack’s bottom line.

“This bill essentially gives racetracks the ability to insulate themselves from going broke,” said Senator Codey. “If a single bettor has a bad night at the races, they’re hopefully not betting with their life savings and can continue to make ends meet. However, if a racetrack has a bad night at the races, it can have a domino effect, destabilizing the racetrack’s finances and eating into their economic well-being.”

The final bill in the package, S-2390, sponsored by Senators Sarlo and Whelan, would lowers minimum requirement for the number of standardbred horse racing dates scheduled at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway to 100 dates per season at each track. The move, following the successful adoption of a reduced schedule at Monmouth Park earlier this year, would ensure larger purses and more prestigious races at the racetrack each year.

“We’ve seen the success of a reduced schedule at Monmouth Park in drawing bigger names and more exciting races to that track, and we want to see that replicated at the Meadowlands,” said Senator Sarlo. “With the current schedule at the Meadowlands, our resources are spread too thin, and we’re not getting the biggest bang for our buck. This bill will ensure a greater return on our investment, and will put more people in the seats come race day.”

“These bills represent a good first step to stabilizing our casinos and racetracks throughout the State,” said Senator Whelan. “As we move forward, we have to keep our eyes on the goal of creating a sustainable gaming and wagering economy for the entire state, not just one particular region. By taking a comprehensive, all-inclusive approach to reforming the State’s casino and horse racing industries, we can make sure that these industries play an important part in New Jersey’s economic future for many years to come.”