The horse racing industry had been struggling a bit, but the 2013 season at the New Meadowlands Racetrack exceeded expectations. Meadowlands Chairman Jeff Gural told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that a new initiative helped increase bets and that the Meadowlands is building a new grandstand that he hopes will grow business even more.
The 2013 betting season was much better than the previous year. “We were up $40 million so there was $40 million more bet this year than the same period last year. And we raced six less days so we’re really up about 35 percent,” Gural explained. He attributes the increase to trying a new tactic.
“We were approached by a large gambling syndicate and basically the way it operates, we send our signal out and they had been betting with us for the last 10 or 15 years so they said, ‘Well if you charged us less for our signal, we’ll bet 10 times more than we bet now. And if we do that, then other people will bet,'” Gural said. “He was right. They increased their betting by 10 times but everybody else jumped on the bandwagon.”
Gural explained the bigger the betting pool, the better it is for those placing wagers because they know they’re not betting against themselves. The initiative seemed to work because Gural said the Meadowlands had 25 days this year where it handled more than $3 million and there were just four days like that last year.
Coming off a successful season, Gural said the Meadowlands is building a new grandstand. “The building we’re in is obsolete. So I think the growth for us is gonna hopefully be in the live attendance and the live handle,” he said.
In the warmer weather, Gural said live attendance increased and during the summer months, attendees remain outside so it doesn’t matter to them what the building looks like. But the goal is to make the building more up-to-date and attractive all year round.
“I remember going to the Meadowlands when it opened 37 years ago. And that was your first instinct, was wow, this is so different than the old racetracks that you were used to — Aqueduct, Belmont. I think people are gonna say the same thing,” Gural said. “The designer convinced me that we should put lounge chairs in where people would ordinarily stand and read the program. So she said, ‘Well you’re trying to get young people. This is what you need.’ So I said, “OK I’ll try it. You’re probably right.'”
The Super Bowl coming to New Jersey is another opportunity for the Meadowlands. Gural said the Meadowlands has rented the NFL the building for the sponsors party. “So hopefully we’ll expose it to that group of people. We plan to use the building for more than racing,” he said. “In fact we’re changing our name to Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment because we only race 81 or 82 days.”
There is a concert scheduled for early October that will take place on the infield that Gural said he hopes is successful. “We’ll go from there,” he said. “They think we can host birthday parties and that type of thing because it’s gonna be a fun place.”
Gural said the long-term problem he sees is that he can’t control what happens outside of the Meadowlands. “So even if I’m successful, we’re sending our signal to other racetracks and we’re taking that signal. So if the other racetracks aren’t building new buildings, which they’re not for the most part, then you would assume that the people betting on my signal are gonna gradually disappear,” he said.
He also said he believes a casino will come to the Meadowlands in the future, but he’s not sure who will own it, though he would like to.
“The governor’s position has always been he wants to wait five years, give Atlantic City five years. We’re in the third year. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been encouraged by the fact that Atlantic City isn’t doing particularly well. Revel obviously has been a surprise failure. I thought Revel would actually be a success,” Gural said.
According to Gural, the worse Atlantic City does, the better the chances that casinos will be permitted outside of that area. He said it proves that people from northern New Jersey are no longer driving to Atlantic City, but they’re going to Bethlehem, Pa., Aqueduct or Yonkers to gamble.
“I think having 12 casinos in one city in the state versus the New York or Pennsylvania model where you have the casinos located all over the state, it seems illogical that you’d have them all in one place. Plus, to be honest, they just didn’t invest the money they should’ve to improve the town. So once you get away from the boardwalk and that area, the people are disappointed,” Gural said. “I don’t wish them any harm, but I don’t think there’s much you can do to get someone to get in a car and drive two hours when they can drive 10 minutes.”