By Bob Jordan
TRENTON — New efforts are being made to save a deal to put state-owned Monmouth Park into the hands of private management, with tight deadlines looming over the parties.
Officials are facing a Dec. 20 deadline set by racing regulators to certify any transfer of the track’s racing permit to new management. Simulcast contracts with tracks in other jurisdictions have to be in place by the end of the year.
Officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on Monday broke off talks to lease the track to real estate executive Morris Bailey because of a dispute involving a horsemen’s group.
But the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has since aligned with Bailey to make a new pitch to close the deal. The stalemate occurred when the state rejected the horsemen’s bid to control a small portion of the race days.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak declined to comment on the new offer, but racing industry officials say there are signals an agreement will be reached.
James G. Aaron, an Ocean Township attorney and former board member of the New Jersey Racing Commission, said, "I can’t say when a deal is going to take place, but it will happen. The horsemen want it, and the governor is twisting every arm he can to get a deal. I think Gov. Christie wants a deal done because then he can say he did everything possible to save the industry."
Another former member of the racing commission, Ronald S. Dancer, now a Republican assemblyman from Ocean County, noted the state’s year-long effort to divest operations of Monmouth and the Meadowlands Racetrack has had other stops and starts.
Bailey said he wanted out of the Monmouth deal in September when a dispute arose with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority over cost overruns.
"This too will pass," Dancer said of the latest dustup. "This is not going to be a deal breaker."
Other state lawmakers are also watching the situation closely. Many laws or proposals on off-track wagering facilities, exchange wagering, and sports betting are tied to active operation of the state’s racetracks.