Dennis Drazin is the CEO of Darby Development, the operator of Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO The battle to overturn PASPA took six years of litigation that ultimately succeeded when the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in May 2018, allowing individual states to set their own rules. When racing begins at the track in May, the roster of additional events will include food truck festivals, concerts and other opportunities for on-site fun. Darby is partnering with Legends Hospitality, LLC for food and beverage services for racetrack venues with the exception of the Blue Grotto, a popular beer garden and live music venue already drawing a crowd at the racetrack. “That will be a prime part of the activity this summer,” Drazin said. The transformation has come about through the efforts of Red Bank attorney Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development, LLC, operator of Monmouth Park; the support of the state; and the backing of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the thoroughbred industry. “I didn’t sit idle,” Drazin said. Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20) strongly supported the proposal, Drazin said. Several years ago, the future of Monmouth Park was precarious. After hearing the arguments before the Supreme Court in December 2017, Drazin felt confident in the outcome. The future of Monmouth Park has implications far beyond its boundaries. The racetrack is the largest employer and the largest taxpayer in its hometown of Oceanport. “With sports betting comes new opportunities to market to your customer in different ways,” Drazin said. “You want to try to establish a crossover.” Drazin, who had served as counsel and advisor to the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for many years and as president of the group for two terms, led the organization in leasing the facility from the state. In 2012, the group entered into a long-term lease with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Drazin’s company partnered with William Hill, the oldest bookmaker business in the world, to create the first sports book at Monmouth Park. The racing industry is also benefiting from $100 million in state funding to be paid out over a five-year period based on the industry demonstrating significant progress in generating revenues; 2019 was the first year the subsidy was in effect. “The higher purses we were able to create as a result of the added revenue made a significant difference,” Drazin said. “The breeding industry got a shot in the arm with 30 or 40 more brood mares coming in to New Jersey.” By Eileen Moon “Monmouth Park was the one (racing facility) in New Jersey that was willing to take on this battle,” Drazin said. But a formidable hurdle remained. In order to operate a sports betting facility, proponents needed to overturn a federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, which outlawed sports betting in all but a few states. In a budget-cutting measure, then-Gov. Chris Christie ended subsidies to the racetrack, announcing that he wanted New Jersey’s racing venues to privatize or close. Knowing it was unlikely they’d succeed in bringing a casino to Monmouth Park, Drazin approached the governor and legislature with the idea of instituting sports betting. To bolster the state’s struggling casinos and racetracks, the legislature adopted a constitutional amendment that legalized sports betting. At its official opening June 14, 2018, Drazin said, “There were thousands of people that showed up at Monmouth Park, and Gov. Murphy made the first bet. We were the first sports book to open in the state and for the first time in many years, I saw a solution to the problem (of maintaining the racetrack). Sports betting produced enough of a profit that I felt we could at least break even.” Vast, with Joe Bravo riding, left, won the Hollywood Wildcat Stakes for Two-Year-Old Fillies at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO. Wagering and gaming opportunities continue to evolve with technology and Monmouth Park plans to stay ahead of the curve with innovative ideas that include bets that combine racing and sports, fixed odds wagering and exchange wagering, which allows people to bet after the horses are out of the gate and before they cross the finish line. “I began plans to renovate the racetrack for what I anticipated to be larger crowds than the first venue could handle,” he said. Citing a study by the Rutgers Equine Science Center, the horse industry in New Jersey is responsible for 13,000 jobs and the preservation of some 222,000 acres of open space that might otherwise fall to development. “Even though it was illegal, sports betting was a $400 billion a year business in the U.S.,” Drazin said. “It’s not like people weren’t doing it.” Once at risk of closure and potential development, the historic home of the sport of kings is successfully reinventing itself as a destination for sports wagering and entertainment while it maintains its status as a premier venue for thoroughbred racing. OCEANPORT – Now in its second year, sports betting at Monmouth Park appears to be paying off in a big way. “Without that, the industry would not have survived,” said Drazin, who traces his lifelong interest in horse racing back to his childhood years accompanying his father to Monmouth Park. Plans are now in the works to add another state-of-the-art sports book facility on the valet parking side of the racetrack. Scheduled to open in 2021, it will be an “upscale, Las Vegas-style, sports book,” Drazin said. While it won’t feature casino-style table games or slots, he said, “it will be almost like a typical sports book you would have in a casino in Las Vegas.” It’s critical for Monmouth Park to succeed in attracting a younger demographic who will help the facility endure for many years to come, Drazin noted. “We want to create a fun environment where customers want to spend time.” “They were losing money,” Drazin said. “They were struggling to survive.” As the litigation made its way through the courts, Drazin’s development company embarked on enhancing the offerings at Monmouth Park, renovating a former cafeteria to serve as a sports bar where customers could watch games and engage in some limited, legal forms of sports wagering.