As you may have heard, there’s an election on Tuesday, November 8.
But more than the presidential race is on the ballot in New Jersey. In effect, it’s the future of the state’s horse industry.
Question 1 asks whether two casinos should be allowed in North Jersey, at least 72 miles from Atlantic City. One possible location is the Meadowlands racetrack, which is lagging in competition with tracks in neighboring states that have “racinos” boosting purses and hence, attracting more horses.
Although revenue from the measure would go to a variety of beneficiaries, including property tax relief for senior citizens and the disabled, as well as to Atlantic City, it is specified that “not less than two percentage points in each State fiscal year would be dedicated for programs designed to aid the thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen in this State.”
If you’re a sport horse person, you’re probably saying, “Why should I care what happens to racing?”
That’s what dressage judge and breeder Earlen Haven of Woodstown believed initially.
“I did not even give it a thought that it might affect me in any way,” she said. Then the state Equine Advisory Board member started doing some research. A poll showed that 35 percent of the cars parked at one Pennsylvania racetrack had New Jersey plates, while 60 percent of the cars at another track there also were from New Jersey. As Earlen asked, why should that money be going to other states when we could keep it in New Jersey?
“The fact remains that without the casino gambling at the track, New Jersey racetrack purses cannot compete with our surrounding states. It is one of the main reasons that horses and horse farms are leaving New Jersey in droves,” she stated.
“Breeder incentive awards and the purses are much more alluring in our surrounding states, since they are funded by a percentage of their casino gambling at their tracks.”
A statement from the New Jersey Quarter Horse Association, which supports a “yes” vote on Question 1, points out, “We have lost horses, farms and training facilities. That means hundreds of jobs; investment and economic benefit have been lost to Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Delaware. We need to level that playing field if equine agriculture is going to survive in NJ.”
Here’s the bottom line for the state’s sport horse industry: “If the racing industry leaves New Jersey, soon other supporting businesses will leave also,” Earlen pointed out.
“Racing is a major player for supporting businesses such as blacksmiths, tack shops, farmers growing hay, feed stores selling us grain, etc. All of the above are needed by the non-racing horses also.” What would you do if your veterinarians left the state because their practices lost a high percentage of the horses they served when the animals moved elsewhere?
“We are teetering on thin ice,” contended Karyn Malinowski, executive director of the Rutgers Equine Science Center.
“The racing industry cannot compete with New York and Pennsylvania. If it doesn’t get some relief, either from the Legislature or the money from North Jersey casinos, it will be gone totally. We stand to lose 57,000 agricultural acres that were here because of the racing industry.”
New Jersey racing had a $30 million supplement from the casino industry that ended in 2011. Since then, Karyn said, “They’ve been living on fumes.”
In case you’re not planning to read any more of this column, I’ll make the point here–vote yes on Question 1. Even if you weren’t going to vote because you don’t like either of the presidential candidates or care about the rest of the ticket, you should go to your poling place and do the one thing that can help the horse industry.
Don’t forget, horse farms offer important open space and green acreage in the most densely populated state in the Union. They also provides recreation, sport and career opportunities for youth. And then there’s the important contribution of therapeutic riding. Those are key points to make in convincing your non-equestrian friends to join you in supporting this measure.
One other thing. Karyn said is that if the question is defeated in a blowout, the odds are against it ever coming up for a vote again. While we have to hope it passes, whatever the odds, it’s still important to vote “yes” so legislators can see there is interest in the concept.
She noted that the many ads against the proposal are paid for by casino companies that own what would be competing entities if casinos come to North Jersey. Atlantic City interests also are contributing, she said, pointing out the irony that some complaining casinos have built properties in the Philadelphia area only about 50 miles from Atlantic City, rather than the 72 miles of the North Jersey proposal.
“Can we gain back all the gamers going to New York and Pennsylvania (as well as Delaware) to gamble?” Karyn asked.
“Can we bring them back to New Jersey with a casino or two in North Jersey? The answer should be a resounding `yes.’”