Betting at the Meadowlands Racetrack rose 24 percent this season — despite fewer racing dates — during a year that its chairman said shattered his expectations.
The historic harness racing venue, which just concluded its second season under private management, said bettors wagered $199 million during the 2013 campaign, up $38.7 million from last year. The track had seven fewer racing dates between its winter and summer meets going back to late December, when it kicked off several changes in marketing, its wagering system and how horses are grouped for races.
And the resurgence comes as the track prepares to open a new state-of-the-art grandstand in fall, replacing the 35-year-old facility that has become oversized and underused amid the industry's decline. The new $85 million building will be in the spotlight when it hosts the NFL's Tailgate Party for the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.
In a prepared statement, Chairman Jeff Gural said the season "exceeded our wildest expectations," crediting a management team that "isn't afraid to try different things."
"When things don't work, we try to find positive changes and apply them," said Gural, head of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC. "Not everything we come up with will work, but we aren't afraid to try."
The track capped its summer meet Saturday with its famous Hambletonian Day. Total handle for that part of the season rose 20 percent from last year, according to a news release.
Gural's company is operating the track under a long-term lease with the state, which sought to privatize horseracing after years of declining interest. Last summer, the real estate mogul and horseman said attendance during the first year of new management was underwhelming, due in large part to competition from out-of-state tracks that have slot parlors to supplement purses and revenue.
But a rebound began this spring, when Gural touted "staggering" increases in betting during the Meadowlands' winter meet. Live standardbred racing will return to the venue in November.
Reporter Joshua Burd is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.