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May 10, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Monmouth Park betting on sports wagering

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 (Sports Network) - This year marks the 68th season of thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore. Currently operated by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the racetrack is already lining things up for the expected advent of sports betting in the Garden State.

While it goes through the judicial system, New Jersey's endeavor to legalize sports wagering is believed to be inevitable, so Monmouth Park has teamed up with William Hill, a worldwide sports betting company.

William Hill US, whose CEO is Joe Asher, will initially sponsor the track's signature race, the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds. William Hill, with the approval of the state's gaming regulatory authorities, will create a state-of-the-art sports book at the track.

"I don't think there is any doubt that one day sports betting will become legal in New Jersey," Asher said. "I don't know when that day will come You know, if I don't give you a date you won't be able to say I was wrong."

Potential totals of up to $1 billion from sports betting at Monmouth Park alone are being discussed.

"That's a billion dollars in handle, the amount wagered," Asher explained. "The state of Nevada generates just under $3.5 billion in handle. There's no doubt at all in my mind that the market is significantly bigger in New Jersey just based on the population density and also the deep sports culture that exists in this region. The fairly reasonable estimate could be a $10 billion sports betting market in New Jersey. And if you assume that Monmouth Park would represent 10 percent of that, that's where the billion dollar estimate comes from.

"If New Jersey ultimately prevails in the litigation, then sports betting will spread to other states as well, and we would look where we could as well."

Monmouth Park is looking at the introduction of sports betting as a revenue stream that can increase purses for its primary business, horse racing. Surrounding states have casino gambling at racetracks that have boosted the amount of money offered to horsemen.

New Jersey is in a bind due to the Atlantic City casinos' lobbying power that keeps slot machines and table games out of its racetracks. Three years ago, Monmouth Park made what seemed like a last-ditch effort to generate interest in horse racing. Offering fewer race days with much larger per day purses, the track produced a blip on the screen that, unfortunately, it could not sustain.

The NJTHA is leasing Monmouth Park from the state with hopes of keeping thoroughbred racing alive in the Garden State. Those hopes are what the horsemen are now living on.

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