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North Jersey gaming proponents are at the starting gate. Again!

This time in the form of another bill to bring casino gaming state-wide through the benefit of the already legal, on-line gaming component – right to the horse race industry by: Robert Ambrose

To some degree I have to take a tongue and check view of this latest bill being “trotted” through the state assembly here in New Jersey - maybe “jockeying” as another way to spread casino style gambling in the state.

The November (2016) referendum to expand gambling in New Jersey was a “bad bet” from the “line-up” and should have been “scratched” early, as most saw its massive defeat “across the board,” months before the election.

The new Assembly Bill #4255 recently “sprinted” through the state house without a “whinny” this pass fall. If it “goes the distance” and crosses the “finish-line,” a racetrack could essentially be leasing floor space to an Atlantic City Casino and offer gaming product through the existing, legal on-line gaming network throughout the state.

Since the defeated November ballot question cannot (by law) be re-introduced for some time, it could appear in this new form putting it out for a vote sooner than later as a possible “favourite to win.” It will be interesting, should this concept fly to see the public’s interest level concerning a “win or place” at the polls.

I’m not sure how this new bill will “round-the-bend” with the voters, but it has the potential to lay the ground work for a partnership between race tracks and AC casinos and give the north Jersey folks their taste of a long desired location(s) for casino operations. The racetracks will be required to enter into a joint venture with an existing casino in AC.

Things have been a little quiet since on-line gaming was introduced in NJ. It has brought a positive number to the bottom line for the various casino operations in AC, although its initial run from the “starting gate” was definitely over-hyped in certain sectors. However despite that early hype for on line gambling the state figures show an increase every month in casino revenue since its introduction in 2013. This fall was at a 30+% year over year increase.

Now that it has shown to be a reliable part of the technology in the gaming infrastructure in NJ, it is being viewed in this recent effort by some as a way to piggy-back the on-line model for supplemental gaming enterprises at racetracks. In a sense this would effectively create a “racino” of sorts.

The bill has a way to go before it could ever reach the “finish-line.” I think it is too early to determine what level of impact this model would have on the stake holders in either AC or the racing industry state wide. I have not seen any type of formal study on it. But if approved the “final stretch” will present several regulatory issues that would have to be reviewed before an adventure of this magnitude could be even put into a test mode. And if it makes it to the ballot box and passes (don’t hold your breath) I would like to see the following take place: a 6-12 month test site used to test the infrastructure, regulations, general interest and the potential profit margin for all parties.

We can only hope that within the module (should it become reality) there is room for a positive revenue stream for both the race track industry and AC. This model certainly cannot hurt the racing industry that is trying so desperately to survive. And in the same thought AC does not need a sucker punch at this time as it continues to expand its offerings and place better days ahead in its path. New Jersey residents both in polling and at the ballot box have not shown a real interest in expanding gambling in any form.

Enjoy the race!

Bob Ambrose

Robert Ambrose is a Gaming & Hospitality Professor at the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management at Drexel University, Philadelphia.
His experience includes commercial casino development and gaming operations at the executive level. After a successful career in casino operations, Bob joined Drexel as a Gaming/Hospitality Instructor. Professor Ambrose continually collaborates with industry professionals and reports on the industry about his research through publications, lectures and consulting. Follow: @bobambrose