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Sucker bet - or safe bet for the industry: Bill to allow for wagering on previously recorded horse races advanced by Senate panel

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Would you bet on a race that has long since finished?
Would you bet on a race that has long since finished?

At first glance, it appears to be a horse player's ultimate dream: Betting on races that already have been run.

But proponents of the legislation advanced by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee Monday afternoon called it something else: A way to help (or even save) the industry in the state without a penny of government assistance.

The bill, which received unanimous support from the Senate panel, would authorize wagering on what is known as "instant racing," or previously recorded racing events at electronic terminals found at racetracks, off-track betting locations and casinos.

In order to keep the outcome of the races hidden to those looking to place bets, information regarding the horses, track location and date of the actual event is not identified.

The omissions make it impossible for a gambler to know which previous race is being re-run.

Don't believe it? Ask Louis Cella, vice president of the Oaklawn Jockey Club in Arkansas, where such wagering was developed and has been permitted since 2000.

Cella, also the vice president of Race Tech LLC, the company which created and operates the instant racing system, told the panel that it has "saved the thoroughbred industry in Arkansas."

"The ultimate questions become, 'Does instant racing work?' 'Does it help our industry?' Both answers are a resounding yes," Cella said.

Cella said that since its inception, instant racing has caused his racetrack to hire 500 additional employees and has led to local investment such as new hotels and restaurants.

"Will this solve all of racing problems? Absolutely not," Cella said. "However, instant racing is a start and it will help New Jersey's racing industry without asking for any handouts, without asking for any subsidies."

Regulation over instant racing has emerged as one of the more prominent concerns for legislators, with the bill currently written to have both the New Jersey Racing Commission and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement involved in the promulgation of any necessary rules and provisions.

Dennis Drazin, an advisor to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association who was testifying on behalf of Monmouth Park, said that he thinks both agencies should have a hand in regulating instant racing, which he believes could provide a much-needed boost to the state's industry.

"I urge you to move this along out of committee," Drazin said.

Drazin said he had already spoken to one casino operator who was in favor of hosting instant racing and hopes that others will follow.

The committee also heard from Donald Weinbaum, executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, who noted that the legislation must do more to address compulsive wagering in the way that the recently passed internet gaming bill did.

"Unfortunately, this bill does not mention problem gambling at all," Weinbaum said of the bill, which his organization did not take a formal position on. "We believe that it should."

Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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