2011-05-12 / Front Page
Monmouth Park talks on track for June opening
Racetrack will fund interim racing program through May
Scheduled for May 14, opening day at the track will feature a series of races as well as the Great Destinations Travel Show.
“Everybody is excited about opening day,” said John Heims, director of media relations at Monmouth Park.
“There are horses that are back on the grounds. You get that buzz back into the building and you get that feel as we head into the opener,” he added.
But that excitement is tempered by the fact that an agreement has yet to be reached between Morris Bailey, a real estate developer seeking a five-year lease for the racetrack, and the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA), which currently owns Monmouth Park.
The two parties are working on a June 1 deadline to reach a five-year lease agreement for Monmouth Park and five off-track wagering (OTW) facilities.
The June 1 deadline is the date originally cited in the request for proposals that awarded Bailey the right to enter into negotiations with the state to lease the racetrack. Ronald Riccio, the attorney representing Bailey, said last week he is “cautiously optimistic” that negotiations will be completed on time and that Bailey will take over the track by the June 1 deadline.
“We are continuing to make progress on every front,” he added.
In addition to the NJSEA, Bailey also has to negotiate agreements with the various unions that operate at Monmouth Park, including the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the general maintenance workers.
As of last week, Bailey and the Horsemen’s Association had reached a tentative contract agreement.
“Nothing has been finalized, but we had a very good meeting [with the Horsemen’s Association] and made significant progress,” Riccio said, adding that he is hopeful that Bailey will be able to take over the track by June 1 if not sooner.
With negotiations still ongoing, Monmouth Park will be funding its own purses until an agreement between Bailey and the NJSEA is reached.
The track currently has races scheduled from May 14 through May 30, Heims explained.
“Then the new lessee would take over June 1, but everything is subject to change based on negotiations,” he added.
“We are racing weekends in May and Memorial Day. After that, I don’t know what happens.”
Despite the uncertainty, Heims said the track is operating under the assumption that it will continue operating throughout the season.
“We have to go full steam ahead if we are to continue. You are going to need the horses. Everything has to be as if you are going to go forward,” he said.
As negotiations progress and races are held, Monmouth Park will have to provide money for race purses.
“There is an escrow account that is set up from the simulcast revenue that’s generated all year long. Since we are dark in the winter, there is still money that’s generated that’s been there all year long. That’s where the purses will be paid from,” Heims said.
If each of the interested parties can reach an agreement, Bailey will be awarded the five-year lease of Monmouth Park and assume responsibility for the operation, maintenance and management of the racetrack with an option to extend the lease.
Bailey would also receive leases for five OTWs, including the state’s Woodbridge OTW, as well as a 50 percent share of the NJSEA’s interest in account wagering.
As part of an agreement to operate the racetrack, Bailey would be required to pay all of its operating expenses, including utilities, facility and grounds maintenance, personnel, management and labor costs and taxes — including any property tax or payment in lieu of taxes required — and any special assessments to be paid to the borough of Oceanport.
ANewYork-based real estate developer, Bailey, who also owns property in Deal, has previous experience turning around failing properties.
He recently purchased the Resorts Casino in Atlantic City.
According to Riccio, Bailey is also a horse owner and breeder and has raced horses at Monmouth Park.
The sports authority issued a request for proposals for the lease of the racetrack on March 31 following Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cease state funding of the horseracing industry.
Areport issued in November by the governor’s Advisory Commission on Gaming, Sports and Entertainment cited an on-track loss of $6.6 million at Monmouth Park in 2010.
However, 2010 also saw the racetrack host its first Elite Meet, which reduced the number of racing dates while raising purses in order to attract higher-quality horses and increased attendance.
Contact Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org