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Meadowlands Racetrack reports huge increase in wagers in 2013

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Betting at the Meadowlands Racetrack made key strides in 2013, as it notched a 32 percent increase in total wagers on contests at the revamped racing venue.

The track's operator announced Thursday that total handle rose to nearly $227 million in 2013, up $55 million from 2012. The uptick was fueled largely by off-track wagering on its races, as live betting was virtually flat at $24.6 million, but the track officials also noted that the year featured two fewer racing days because of weather cancellations.

The news came as the venue scrapped its first live racing of the 2014, scheduled for Thursday night, but management is riding high after rebounding from 2012. Twelve months ago, the operator initiated several changes in marketing, scheduling and how horses are grouped in races, yielding noticeable benefits by the spring.

The East Rutherford venue also marked a milestone in 2013, opening a new $85 million grandstand to replace its 37-year-old facilities. The sleek 180,000-square-foot space has year-round simulcasting, a sports bar, high-end restaurants and event spaces.

"To see these kinds of numbers in this day and age borders on the remarkable," Jason Settlemoir, the general manager of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, said in a prepared statement. He called the new grandstand "a shot in the arm" when it opened in November, but said most racing dates had already taken place.

The Meadowlands, a historic site for harness racing, is at a natural disadvantage compared to venues in other states, which use slot parlors to boost revenue and purses. New Jersey's constitution only allows casino gambling in Atlantic City.

In 2011, the state Sports & Exposition Authority turned over management of the struggling track to New Meadowlands Racing, led by New York racing and real estate mogul Jeff Gural. His efforts to turn things around have included building the new grandstand and completing the state's fourth off-track betting parlor, in Bayonne, in summer 2012.

The parlor took in $50 million in total wagers in 2013, up 42 percent from the operator's projected totals in 2012, New Meadowlands Racing said in a news release.

News of the track's performance comes as the chorus grows for the state to consider casino gaming in North Jersey, presumably at the Meadowlands. Gov. Chris Christie has given Atlantic City five years to revitalize itself before he and state officials consider an expansion northward, but that grace period is coming to an end.

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