ATLANTIC CITY - In another blow to the state's struggling horse racing industry, the owner of Atlantic City Race Course announced it will cease operations and close permanently after heavy losses the last eight years.
The racetrack's last day of business for simulcasting will be Friday. The closure leaves New Jersey with three operating horse tracks - Meadowlands, Freehold, and Monmouth.
"We regret to announce that we must close Atlantic City Race Course immediately due to continuous business decline in the industry, the current regional economic climate, and the absence of alternative revenue opportunities," Joe Wilson, president of Greenwood ACRA Inc., owner and operator of the track, said in a statement Friday. "Most importantly, we would like to thank our dedicated employees and the supporters of Atlantic City Race Course who have contributed to its proud legacy in the racing industry over the years."
Wilson said the racetrack had lost at least 60 percent of its business over the last eight years, reflecting the industry as a whole.
Horse racing in the state lost significant attendance with the opening of Atlantic City casinos in the late 1970s. But the decline accelerated in 2007. That was the year New Jersey started losing breeders and jockeys to other states, including Pennsylvania and New York, which were able to offer higher purses using new revenue from the addition of slot machines at their tracks.
In March 2008, the state Senate approved legislation to give horse tracks a $90 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos over three years for not installing video lottery terminals that resemble slot machines.
But in 2011, Gov. Christie eliminated the subsidy and redirected it toward Atlantic City's marketing efforts as part of a five-year revitalization plan.
Atlantic City Race Course had not run enough races annually to benefit from the subsidy. This fueled its demise, since it could not offer competitive purses.
The state's latest effort to boost the Shore casino and horse racing industries with the addition of sports wagering fell short. Federal circuit courts shot down the effort last year, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
"The problem with New Jersey's racing industry is they offer only one type of activity - betting on horses," said Barbara DeMarco, a state gaming lobbyist. "It would be the same as an ice cream shop only offering vanilla ice cream. People want choices. They want options.
"I further believe if the courts had sided with Gov. Christie on allowing sports books at both New Jersey casinos and racetracks, as overwhelmingly supported by the New Jersey electorate, Atlantic City Race Course would not be closing.
"Sports wagering would have allowed racetrack owners and operators to diversify their offerings," DeMarco said.
Greenwood ACRA is a subsidiary of Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania's top-grossing casino. Parx also has a racetrack.
Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc. won Philadelphia's second and last casino license in partnership with Cordish Co. Greenwood Racing is also the parent of Greenwood Gaming.
Greenwood ACRA also co-owns Freehold Raceway with Penn National Gaming Inc. It owns and operates Favorites at Vineland, one of five offtrack wagering (OTW) sites in the state. The others are in Gloucester Township, Woodbridge, Toms River, and Bayonne. It co-owns the OTW site in Toms River with Penn National.
"Atlantic City Race Course used to run a full schedule of races when the casinos opened in the late '70s," Wilson said Friday. "That certainly drew a lot from the racetracks. When we bought it, there were only so many races we could run.
"The problem in the last eight years is that business has declined about 60 percent or more, and there are no signs of that trend reversing. We reached a point where we can't stay open.
"We looked and tried everything. We've lost money there for several years. You keep holding out and exhaust every possibility you could. Unfortunately, we can't keep going. We're at the end."
The announcement said customers may cash winning tickets at Atlantic City Race Course until Friday. After that, winning tickets may be cashed during normal business hours at Favorites at Vineland, 1332 S. Delsea Dr.