Shuttered Cherry Hill Racetrack Could Be Revitalized Via NJ Sports Betting Law

Written By Grant Lucas on June 18, 2018

Garden State Park racetrack in Cherry Hill is currently a shell of its former self.

It last staged a horse race in May 2001 and is now a high-end town center of retail and residential properties. The only hint of the track’s past life is the original 1942 entrance gate at the intersection of Route 70 and Garden State Boulevard.

Yet Garden State Park Racetrack — known now as Towne Place at Garden State Park — could be revitalized soon, thanks to NJ sports betting legislation signed last week by Gov. Phil Murphy.

‘Former racetrack’ brings hope to Cherry Hill

Nearly a month after the US Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional, clearing the path of regulated sports betting on a state-by-state basis, New Jersey finally passed legislation to allow single-game wagering.

As it has been well documented, casinos and racetracks in the Garden State were authorized to apply for sports betting licenses and open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks immediately. Online books will be allowed 30 days after Murphy’s signing.

The bill allows “wagering at casinos and racetracks on certain professional and collegiate sports or athletic events.” A “racetrack” is defined in the bill as a property that hosts horse races, but it also includes former racetracks. Garden State Park falls under that special provision.

From the bill:

“‘Former racetrack’ means any former racetrack where a horse race meeting was conducted within 15 years prior to the effective date of P.L.2014, c.62 (C.5:12A-7 et seq.), excluding premises other than the land contained within the racecourse oval.”

What does that mean?

Flashback to 2014, when Phil Norcross helped draft language for a repeal of the sports betting ban.

That law which was signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie allowed for sports betting at any facility “where a horse race meeting with pari-mutuel wagering is conducted and includes any former racetrack where such a meeting was conducted within 15 years prior to the effective date of this act.”

When that bill was composed, it had been 13 years since Cherry Hill staged a race, essentially grandfathering in Garden State Park as a potential sports betting site.

Interestingly, an earlier version of the latest NJ sports betting legislation, one that was posted a week before the SCOTUS ruling, required all former racetracks to reboot live horse racing by July 1, 2020, in order to be authorized to accept single-game wagers.

That stipulation was since deleted. The now-enacted bill includes “effective date of P.L.2014,” maintaining 2014 as the measuring stick for former racetracks.

Former Sen. Raymond Lesniak was one of the first lawmakers to begin a fight for legalized sports betting. While he told POLITICO last week that he was “not consulted on the legislation,” he emphasized that Garden State Park was long on his mind.

“… I can tell you that I specifically targeted that area because it’s a very lucrative market,” he said, “and we would have lost out of Philadelphia if there was not a site in Cherry Hill to have sports betting.”

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Could Cherry Hill be entering the industry?

Short answer: Probably not soon. Although one report suggests it would be beneficial for the market.

According to a report Lesniak provided to POLITICO and put together by a casino and sports betting business in Reno, Nev., an additional site in Cherry Hill “increases the market” by 27 percent.

On top of that, consider that the property owners seem to know the right people.

Jack Morris, CEO of Edgewood Properties, which developed Towne Place at Garden State Park, is a main investor in Hard Rock Atlantic City, which is expected to open June 28.

Morris and Joseph Marino, president of Century 21 Construction Corporation and a business partner of Morris, both have close ties with NJ power broker George Norcross, who was voted by in 2014, 2015, and 2016 as the second-most powerful person in the state behind Christie.

While messages left for Garden State Park officials went unanswered, a spokesman for Norcross said that while the broker does not have any ownership interest in Towne Place at Garden State Park, perhaps he could down the road.

“But he has known, been friends with and worked with the owners for a number of years and if a good opportunity came up, he’d look seriously at it,” the spokesman said in a statement to POLITICO. “As you likely know, a development like this would require significant capital — investments in the millions of dollars — but if it was a good opportunity, he’d consider it for sure.“

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant now focuses his attention on the growing NJ online gambling and sports betting scene.

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