Freehold Raceway was the site of an unofficial horse racing summit late last month, as executives from each of New Jersey's four racetracks met to discuss the long list of issues facing the quickly changing industry.
The May 30 meeting was called so the operators could open the lines of communication in several areas, including sports betting, new legislation and the future of the state's off-track betting network, Grapevine has learned. Whether the conference was fruitful remains to be seen, but sources say such a meeting is not an everyday occurrence in the racing industry, where operators don't always see eye to eye.
"We talked about a number of issues that confront the industry right now and tried to find some common ground," one source said. "You get a lot more accomplished working together, instead of having cross purposes."
All of New Jersey's tracks are under private control for the first time in decades, now that the state has leased Meadowlands Racetrack to Jeff Gural and Monmouth Park to the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Both Gural and Dennis Drazin, who heads the new management group for Monmouth Park, were in attendance. The meeting also drew executives from the Pennsylvania-based parent companies of Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course, and the head of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey.
Playing a Vitale role
Joe Vitale burst on the scene last week as a sponsor of a Senate bill to remake Rutgers and UMDNJ. In one stroke, Vitale publicly re-emerged as a power player in the state's health care discussions.
The Vitale factor was all the more surprising because it was not long ago that he had backed Dick Codey in his failed fight with Steve Sweeney for the Senate presidency. Vitale was then punished by being stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate health committee, a leadership role given to Loretta Weinberg. But in New Jersey politics, where alliances shift more quickly than they do on a reality TV show, Vitale became a vital cog for Sweeney and Donald Norcross, the bill's other sponsors.
"They got him for the optics," said one political observer about why Vitale was roped in. It also makes sense because Vitale has always been close with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School crowd.
But the biggest benefit goes to the South Jersey political forces that have pushed for the higher ed reorganization. It was a bit of brilliance to have Vitale, a respected policy wonk on health care and a non-Sweeney and non-Norcross guy, advocate for the legislation. So who made it all work? Grapevine was told the credit goes to Donald Norcross — but, c'mon, doesn't that caliber of political talent point more to big brother George?
Courier News, welcome Home
The bosses at Gannett Co.'s Home News Tribune told staffers last week they wouldn't renew the lease on the paper's East Brunswick offices. Instead, the staff of the paper's Middlesex County paper will be based in Somerset County and move in with the staff of Gannett's Courier News, of Somerville.
The fact that there's room for the Home News staffers says a lot about the rapid pace of Gannett's downsizing. The Courier staff has been in its East Main Street offices since 2009. Prior to that, the Courier was housed in a much larger, Gannett-owned facility on Route 22 in Bridgewater. Gannett shuttered the Courier's printing press and laid off much of the paper's other staff, freeing Gannett up to sell that building and move the Courier into the right-sized office space in Somerville.
At the time of the move, the space was a snug fit for the Courier's staff. Just three years later, further layoffs at both newspapers left the Courier with plenty of room to welcome the remaining Home News staffers.
Correction appended: An earlier version of Grapevine included an item that was inaccurate. The item has been removed.
Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at email@example.com.