New Jersey's newest off-track wagering parlor is officially open, and a lawsuit that could have impacted the development of other betting taverns in the state has been halted for the time being.
The new parlor, Winners Bayonne, opened its doors today at a ceremony hosted by Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural, who took over construction of the 25,000-square-foot facility last year. The $18 million project is the fourth such parlor to open in the state, part of a 10-year-old effort by lawmakers to build a network of 15 OTW sites and provide new revenue to the ailing horse racing industry.
The opening comes about two months after two of the state's racetrack operators, which have the rights to build the parlors, challenged a group of laws designed to speed their development. Under one of the laws, the track operators had until June 28 to show progress toward developing the sites or pay the state $1 million to retain their permits.
The operators of Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course filed a federal lawsuit in May to stop the state from enforcing the laws. But in a ruling issued last week, a U.S. District Court judge denied their request for an injunction.
Judge Joel A. Pisano found the matter "ripe for judicial review," but ruled against the operators because they had subsequently been given one-year extensions by the state Racing Commission. The extensions were granted to all four of the state's track operators at a June 20 commission meeting, after the firms discussed plans to build their remaining share of parlors.
Still, in the July 11 ruling, the court acknowledged the state's effort to develop off-track wagering facilities has not gone as planned since it was launched in 2002.
"When the Legislature passed the Off-Track and Account Wagering Act, it envisioned a statewide network of wagering facilities that would offer recreation and quality dining, and that simultaneously would promote superior quality horse racing in New Jersey," Pisano wrote. "What it got was a horse of a different color."
The judge noted that only three of the 15 parlors were open at the time, adding that stakeholder groups associated with the racing industry are struggling. He added, "Therefore, it appears that the public interest is best served if the parties come to some global resolution as to how to ensure a stable economic future for New Jersey's horse racing industry."
The lawsuit, and the Racing Commission's decision to grant extensions to the Freehold and Atlantic City track operators, were opposed by the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. Under the law, horsemen groups would be next in line to receive an OTW permit that is forfeited by a track operator.
Representatives for the standardbred group could not immediately be reached today. Chris McErlean, vice president of Freehold parent company Pennwood Racing, declined to comment today.