TRENTON, NJ-In 1998, New Jersey voters approved a ballot question to allow off-track betting parlors around the state as a response to competition for the gaming dollar from other states. It took the state legislature until 2001 to finally enact the enabling legislation, and it has taken until now for the New Jersey Racing Commission to get an agreement in place.

Under that agreement, which was reached yesterday with the operators of the state’s racetracks, up to 15 such facilities, ranging in size from 12,000 to 35,000 sf, could be established. The initial facilities are likely to be built in South Jersey.

The plan calls for the Pennsylvania-based Pennwood, a partnership of Greenwood Racing and Penn National Gaming that owns Freehold Raceway in Freehold, to set up four OTB locations in a region encompassing Ocean, Middlesex, Camden, Mercer and Gloucester counties. Separately, Greenwood, as the owner of Atlantic City Race Course would be able to establish two more locations in South Jersey.

The remaining sites would be owned and operated in the northern and central portions of the state by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which runs Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands Race Track. The NJSEA is currently exploring the possibility of leasing its two tracks on a long-term basis to a private operator, who would become part of the agreement under the prospective lease terms. The agreement still needs the approval of state attorney general Peter C. Harvey, which is expected shortly.

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