With strong bipartisan support, a bill authorizing pari-mutuel wagering at Far Hills Races was advanced Thursday by the New Jersey Assembly’s Tourism, Gaming and Arts Committee. The bill (A1697) authorizes the New Jersey Racing Commission to grant one “special” two-day permit every year to allow betting on steeplechase races.
The legislation was sponsored by Democratic Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Ralph Caputo and Republican Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Jon Bramnick.
Bramnick, the Assembly’s Republican leader, represents the district that includes Moorland Farm in Far Hills.
“This legislation will heighten the profile of New Jersey’s diverse horse racing industry and, in particular, steeplechase racing to a broader national and international audience,” said Dancer (R-Ocean). “We are taking this great New Jersey tradition and making it even better.”
“This should benefit both the horse racing industry and the viewing public,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland), who has sponsored numerous bills to modernize and boost New Jersey’s horse racing industry. “The Far Hills race meeting is a celebrated series of steeplechase horse races that traditionally has been very popular, but wagering is not permitted on the races. This is clearly out-of-place with modern horse racing. At this point, this bill is common sense.”
“Steeplechase horse races are just one of the many wonderful experiences rooted in history that residents and visitors can enjoy in the Garden State,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “Anything we can do to keep and build interest in horse racing in New Jersey and tourism in general is worth looking into. With this bill, we’re at least opening the door to this sensible discussion.”
This year marks the 96th running of the Far Hills races, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 15. The seven-race program is highlighted by the Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race with a $350,000 purse. Each year the one-day festival attracts more than 35,000 spectators, with proceeds benefiting Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset and health care in the region.
“The Far Hills Race Meeting has a long tradition of supporting the highest quality of healthcare for people in Central New Jersey,” said Bramnick (R-Somerset). “Adding wagering to this prestigious event will help provide more money for the fight against cancer.”
The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson is named in honor of the Far Hills Races, which have raised more than $17 million for the medical center.
“The Far Hills Race Association is gratified by the strong bipartisan support offered by Assemblymen Bramnick, Burzichelli, Caputo, and Dancer, who sponsored this legislation,” Far Hills Chairman Guy J. Torsilieri said. “The Far Hills Races are a New Jersey institution that offers steeplechase racing on the highest level, and we are committed to making our meet an international event.”
The bill authorizes the New Jersey Racing Commission to grant a special permit to a permit holder in good standing authorized to conduct running races in this state, for the holding or conducting of a special steeplechase race meeting at a location other than an official racetrack.
The permit holder must conduct the special race meeting in conjunction with an organization that has experience conducting steeplechase races pursuant to state law, and the race meeting must be recognized by the National Steeplechase Association.
A special permit granted pursuant to this bill would be subject to the jurisdiction of the commission.
The commission would be allowed to grant only one special permit per calendar year, which would be valid only for the calendar year in which it is issued.
Any running race permit holder in good standing may apply for the special permit.
The number of racing days authorized pursuant to the special permit would not be permitted to exceed two days in a calendar year.
Any racing day that is run pursuant to the special permit would count toward the total number of racing days allotted to the running race permit holder.
A permit holder that is granted a special permit under the bill would be required to maintain separate books and records, and file reports and audits, for the special steeplechase race meeting to the same extent a permit holder is required to do so by law.
Sums in the pari-mutuel pools that result from wagering on races at the special steeplechase race meeting would be distributed as if the special steeplechase race meeting were held at the location for which the special permit holder holds a running race permit.
However, the special permit holder would be able to enter into a contractual agreement with the organization with which the permit holder is conducting the special race meeting providing for the distribution of money that would otherwise statutorily be distributed to the permit holder.
The bill would also allow simulcasting of the race to in-state and out-of-state facilities.