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Off-track wagering comes to Gloucester

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Penn National Gaming Inc., a joint venture partner in Freehold Raceway, today announced plans to renovate a former restaurant in Gloucester Township to host and operate New Jersey's fifth off-track wagering facility.

To start collecting bets on horseracing at the site by the summer, Penn has already signed a lease for the 15,000-square-foot retail space, and, pending local and state approvals, it will utilize the second of Freehold’s four OTW licenses. The first was employed by Pennwood Racing — a joint venture between Penn National Gaming and Atlantic City Race Course operator Greenwood Racing — to open a 28,000-square-foot OTW facility at a former Toms River supermarket in 2008.

For the joint venture’s remaining two OTW licenses, Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming, said it plans to follow a similar business model in retrofitting existing structures to house wagering equipment, an array of flat-screen televisions and a restaurant and bar, as he noted it’s a “much more realistic way of approaching these facilities, given that the business model is changing and the business itself is changing.”

However, Pennwood Racing filed a lawsuit in federal district court in June challenging a state pilot program that allows the operators of Monmouth Park and Meadowlands Racetrack to utilize one of their OTW licenses to operate betting terminals in existing bars or restaurants, rather than full-scale facilities like Penn’s Favorites at Toms River and new Favorites at Gloucester Township. If the joint venture is successful in its suit, McErlean said it would lean toward that business model for one of its two future sites, instead.

Either way, McErlean said Penn is scouting locations in Mercer County and the southern part of Middlesex County for its unused licenses, as he said its former strategy to open a facility in Maple Shade would create too much competition for its nearby Gloucester Township site.

“Our hope is to try to recapture the South Jersey residents who have been going over to Pennsylvania to wager ever since the Garden State Park (Racetrack in Cherry Hill) closed,” McErlean said. “I still think there’s a good racing audience in the area that will visit our new facility … and we feel Favorites will offer a sports bar atmosphere that we think will appeal to racing fans, as well as those looking for an exciting entertainment option.”

Under a settlement between Penn and Greenwood in August 2011, Favorites at Gloucester Township could fall back into the hands of the full joint venture after certain financial benchmarks for the facility are met.

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