New Jersey May Prevent Decoupling Of Sports Betting And Harness Racing

Sports betting at harness racetracks in the Garden State would depend on the continuation of harness racing under a bill pending in the New Jersey state legislature. 

The legislation is found in 2021 S3771, sponsored by Republican State Sen. Steven Oroho. The bill was approved yesterday, December 6, 2021, by a state Assembly committee after passing the New Jersey Senate back in June 2021 on a 40-0 vote.

Should it become law, the legislation will prevent harness tracks that qualified for a sports betting license as a racetrack under New Jersey’s 2018 sports betting law from operating sportsbooks without live race dates.

Additionally, the tracks would be required to schedule at least 151 live race days per year, unless they have permission from the state’s Standardbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association to schedule fewer race dates.

The bill states that, “As a result, racetracks that currently or previously conducted live standardbred horse race meetings must continue to do so as a condition of operating a sports pool.”

The Purpose of The New Jersey Harness Racing Bill

The legislation appears to be a response to a national trend in harness track closures across the US in recent years. 

At issue is something known as “decoupling,” where casinos are allowed to discontinue standardbred or other types of horse racing from their other gambling operations. 

Among tracks that have stopped live racing is Maine’s Scarborough Downs, a harness track that ended 70 years of live racing in November 2020. The facility is now licensed as an off-track betting (OTB) facility by the Maine Harness Racing Commission.

Similar stories are popping up elsewhere, including at Florida’s Pompano Park. 

The harness track just this year dodged a proposed legislative change that would have allowed its owners to bring the facility’s 57-year harness racing run to an end.

Those are the kinds of scenarios that lawmakers in New Jersey—which is the king of US sports betting given its sportsbooks’ $1 billion+ monthly revenue—hopes to avoid by passing S3771.

“This bill seeks to protect the industry and the benefits to the State of racing-related training and breeding farms by ensuring the continuation of live horse racing for racetracks that operate sports pools,” the bill says.

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