Monday, December 20, 2010

A Letter from Jeff Gural on the Meadowlands Situation





A Message from Jeffrey Gural on the Meadowlands Situation

I think by now, everyone knows that the Governor has given me, in conjunction with the SBOANJ, until March 31st to negotiate a long term lease for the Meadowlands. What most people don’t know is how close we came to having the plug pulled and the 2011 Meadowlands meet cancelled.

I, like most of you, just assumed that the Meadowlands would open in January as our whole industry in New Jersey, and to a lesser extent, the East Coast and Canada, would have been severely harmed if we had no Meadowlands. When I learned that a good friend and business partner was a close friend of Governor Christie’s, I called Tom Luchento last week to see if I could help in any way. Tommy asked me to call Craig Domalewski at the Governor’s office, who politely explained that in order for the Meadowlands to race in 2011, the Governor was insisting on a letter of credit or a security bond for eight million dollars to cover the anticipated operating losses for the year.

He said he needed this by the end of the day Wednesday, which was obviously impossible. Subsequently, the deadline was extended until Friday, but at the last minute on a conference call with the Governor’s office Thursday, we were told that unless we were prepared to put up a significant amount of money, it was a waste of time to come down to Trenton on Friday.

Fortunately, Tommy has some friends in the legislature who persuaded the Governor’s staff to keep the meeting in an effort to find a solution that would allow the Meadowlands to open in January. With input from Leo McNamara, Mike Gulotta, and Anthony Perretti, we were able to come up with a temporary solution that gives us until March 31st to come up with a plan to lease the facility.

In discussions directly with the Governor, he made it perfectly clear that he would veto any legislation that has a purse subsidy or allows slots at the Meadowlands. It is still possible that we will get a purse subsidy as the Democrats are pushing hard to include that in legislation to help Atlantic City.

At the present, we have to assume no purse subsidy. So, the question is, can a new facility be built on the opposite side of the track and be paid for and can purses be high enough to keep the Meadowlands product worth wagering on without slots income or a purse subsidy?

The reason I share this with all of you in the industry is simply because if the Meadowlands is to survive, it will take all of us in the industry working together to make it happen. Obviously, down the road, it is possible a casino will be built, but we can’t count on it and even if it did happen, who knows if Governor Christie would allow money to go to supplement purses as other states currently allow.

I, along with Mike Gulotta, who will be working closely with me and Tommy Luchento, will be reaching out to all of you for help in making the changes that I believe are necessary to keep our existing customers while attracting new and younger customers the way we have been able to do at Tioga.

Clearly, in order to succeed, we will have to improve our product, reduce race dates and tackle the integrity issues that plague our sport.

I think if we all pull together, we can make this happen, but if we don’t, I think it is a virtual certainty the Meadowlands will close for good in April 2011.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Tommy Luchento, Leo McNamara, Mike Gulotta and Anthony Perretti, who have been working overtime to avoid closure. But, the reality is the Governor is not going to subsidize harness racing and we have to accept that.

I look forward to discussing the issues with many of you and hopefully we will come up with a long-term solution.

As the holidays approach, let me wish everyone in the industry a happy holiday and let’s hope 2011 is the beginning of a new era at the Meadowlands as we are given an opportunity to control our own destiny.