TRENTON - The New Jersey Racing Commission approved a full 2011 schedule for the state's financially struggling horse tracks Wednesday, but acknowledged that the number of racing days will almost certainly be reduced.
The commission awarded thoroughbred and standardbred owners 141 days of racing. A request to reduce the number of racing days would come as the tracks move to privatize, Lennon Register, an executive with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, told the panel.
The authority owns the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park tracks.
Since taking office last year, Gov. Christie has looked for a way to get the state out of the horse-racing business. A commission he appointed recommended ending a $30 million subsidy to racing, which has been done; ending live racing at the Meadowlands; and consolidating thoroughbred and harness racing at Monmouth Park in Oceanport starting in 2011.
The Meadowlands is set to lose $11 million next year. Monmouth Park, more than an hour's drive south, is set to lose $6.6 million.
Racing officials and horse breeders hope to put together a deal to lease the Meadowlands to a private operator in time to save the season that starts next month. Racing's future also is tied to revenue from off-track wagering parlors, which the state plans to expand. Gaming at tracks, which casino owners oppose, is not being considered.
Christie announced last week a tentative deal to keep harness racing alive by giving the horsemen a $1.2 million loan until April 1. If no lease is signed with a private operator by then, live racing at the Meadowlands will stop and revenue from simulcasting will pay off the debt.
The loan gives real estate investor Jeffrey Gural time to make a deal to privatize the struggling track. Gural owns Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in Upstate New York, as well as two horse farms.
This month, Christie vetoed a 141-date racing schedule for both tracks - thoroughbreds at Monmouth, harness at the Meadowlands - because no deal had been hashed out.