Blinded by the Light: Will New Jersey finally sell off its race tracks?

Today the Star-Ledger editorial board has put it bluntly, “Get N.J. out of horse racing”, and sell the tracks.

While the Meadowlands Race Track and Monmouth Park once attracted a robust audience willing to bet and spend. Today, they are losing $10 million a year, kept alive with subsidies and casino profits. This isn’t just a Garden State phenomenon – empty seats at the races reveal that tastes change. (One theory for dwindling interest in watching the races posits technology-induced ADD.) Of course, the same can be said for any sport, the arts, or entertainment – no matter how deep its cultural roots.  Bullfighting in Barcelona is on the decline.

The casino industry is no longer amused at having to foot the bill for the tracks.  They agreed to give $90 million over three years as a protectionist measure. In return, the state agreed to keep slot machines out of the racetracks. No matter what form they take, subsidies to entertainment are a bad deal. The state should not be in the business of deciding which sports and recreations get to live past their profitability. That decision belongs to consumers.

But it’s hard for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to let go. At a recent hearing its CEO likened New Jersey’s tracks to a profitable brand, like Coca-Cola. As Governor Christie has indicated, the state can ill-afford such handouts. And more than that, as the governor discovered, the breeders associations were using tax dollars to lobby the government.