By John Burton
OCEANPORT – Big plans are in the works for Monmouth Park as the thoroughbred horseracing track begins its 69th season of racing this weekend, but much of those plans ride on whether sports and casino-style gaming are made legal in New Jersey.
“We expect a great season,” said Dennis Drazin as he and others representing the track conducted a press conference and luncheon Tuesday to highlight the coming summer season.
Drazin is an advisor to the New Jersey Horsemen’s Association and Darby Developers, LLC, which run the track.
He told the gathering that this year is poised to be a banner year for the facility with the decision of operators to increase the size of winning purses to attract the top line of horses, trainers and jockeys to keep Monmouth Park competitive with other locations in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Connecticut region.
Saturday the park also will open the doors to its new William Hill Race and Sports Bar. In addition, plans call for construction to begin later this summer for a new 400-seat casual-to-formal dining restaurant on the park grounds.
“The conversation you’ve heard in the past about a water theme park, hotel and convention center has to wait until we see about expansion of gaming and casinos and slots here,” Drazin said of other large-scale improvements track operators have been talking about.
Currently, sports-betting is legal only in Nevada, but Drazin said he is hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case seeking to allow its expansion. He is also keeping his fingers crossed that Gov. Chris Christie, the state Legislature and voters, through a future referendum, will permit casino-style gambling. That will provide the needed revenue to develop the park into a year-round destination.
Monmouth Park will again play host to the William Hill Haskell Invitational race, which regularly features the country’s most competitive 3-year-old thoroughbreds, and this year will have $1 million in prizes. The race will be held July 27 and will be televised on NBC-TV as part of its Breeders Cup Series Challenger, said Mike Curci, host of the television broadcast “Racing From Monmouth Park.”