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CHRISTIE: DON’T BLAME ME FOR PERRETTI’S EXIT

Link to HarnessRacingUpdate.com

CHRISTIE: DON’T BLAME ME FOR PERRETTI’S EXIT
By Bob Jordan
Harnessracingupdate.com
August 19, 2011

To some, Gov. Chris Christie’s overhaul of the New Jersey horse racing industry claimed its first victim when Perretti Farms announced that the upcoming bloodstock auctions will serve as going-out-of-business sales.

Christie said it’s too bad the Monmouth County breeding giant won’t be around for what he acknowledges will be a bumpy period for horse racing in the state. But the Perretti exit isn’t his fault, Christie said.

“We’re going through a transition,’’ the Republican governor said. “We’re going from public ownership of racetracks and public subsidy to private management of tracks and private subsidy.’’

“If Perretti Farms has decided they want to get out of the business, that’s their business. I’m a little surprised by it, to tell you the truth, because they were major participants in all the negotiations regarding the Meadowlands and huge proponents for saving the Meadowlands track.’’

“And for them to be proponents and sitting at the table, and then turning around later and saying they’re getting out of the business seems to me be a little odd. But it’s their business decision. It‘s not my money, it’s theirs,” Christie said.

What Christie says about those grueling negotiations is true: When Jeffrey Gural first swooped into Trenton last December -- bringing cocktail-napkin plans to lease the state-owned Meadowlands Racetrack -- he was flanked by Perretti representatives and other industry leaders.

More meetings to tie up details with Christie administration officials took place into the spring months. Anthony Perretti, the farm’s general manager, rarely missed a sitdown.

Since then, Christie said, “there’s nothing about racing that’s changed in this period of time.”

But that’s where the governor ’s story is off, said Bob Marks, spokesman for Perretti Farms.

“A lot has changed,’’ said Marks, pointing to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent hints that the cash-strapped Empire State may go all-in for new commercial casino gambling.

“Where would that leave us? For people in New Jersey to wait out for a casino at the Meadowlands someday, there won’t be any market left. New York will be ahead of us,’’ Marks said.

“Perretti Farms is dispersing because Gov. Christie has made a decision preventing us from expanding gambling at the Meadowlands. The economics for our breeding operation don’t make sense. Things have certainly changed since the Meadowlands was saved from closing, in a short time,’’ Marks said.

There‘s also few signs that interest from fans and gamblers -- potential horse buyers -- is improving.

The Meadowlands has trended 15 percent lower in handle, despite a forecast for a boost because of reduced dates, and Marks said, “Look at Freehold Raceway: Nobody‘s going there. They use the parking to store cars from automobile dealers.’’

Christie said there’s little the state government can do about the Perretti Farms closing. The 900-plus acres in Upper Freehold houses close to 400 horses -- sires, broodmares and foals -- and employs 30 people.

But Democratic state lawmakers -- who went along with Christie’s Hanson Commission recommendations to beef up the business climate for Atlantic City casinos and zero out the casino-to-racetrack subsidies -- are signaling that Perretti Farms is too big to fail.

Firing off a press release the day after the Perretti announcement, influential state Senator Ray Lesniak said he would reintroduce online casino legislation vetoed by Christie earlier this year. Money for the horse industry is tucked into the bill, Lesniak said -- enough to “provide a bridge to self-sufficiency for three years through purse enhancements to keep the horse racing industry alive.’’

"Online gaming will be a huge boost for the casino industry,'' Lesniak added. "It can also be a temporary savior for our horse racing industry until we get sports betting at our casinos and racetracks.''
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