New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a Republican governor in a traditionally blue state, and an unapologetic brash mover and shaker in Trenton, judiciary and legislature be damned. He has been making headlines this week following his announcement that the State will essentially take over Atlantic City and other entertainment facilities. This move is intriguing for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the property and land use suits that will inevitably arise from it, since there will be a state takeover of the casinos, while potential privatization of the state managed sports arenas. Having been to Atlantic City, I’m happy for action that will make the place a more desirable attraction, but I am concerned about the impact Christie’s decision will have on the horses.
New Jersey is one of the top equine states in the nation, second in horse breeding and horse sales. Equine-related activities account for about 20% of New Jersey’s agricultural acreage, and are a $3.5 billion economy. 13,000 jobs are tied to horses in some fashion. Why is this important? Part of Christie’s plan calls for the shutdown of operations at the Meadowlands Racetrack, and the sale or lease of the Monmouth Park racetrack. Horse racing has seen declining revenues in New Jersey for years, and the governor and his staff have concluded that to continue funding the enterprise is a losing game. The idea now is to cut losses and sell what still is moderately profitable. On the one hand, this could herald the end of horse racing and the cruelties therein. On the other hand, this could just be a setback for the horses.
Many horse racing advocates are worried that without state subsidies there will be no financial incentive for owners to race their horses at these tracks. Some breeders and trainers believe that they will have to move to Pennsylvania or New York to remain in business. While most of the press has covered the reactions to the economic ramifications, I fear that the interests of the horses may be overlooked. Whether you hate or enjoy horse racing, this move will ripple through the state’s equine economy. If Jersey owners feel they cannot afford to relocate or race locally, the liquidation of their businesses will not end well for the horses. These fears are hopefully unfounded, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on how this develops.