As New Jersey weighs the future of its gaming and horse racing industries, Assemblyman John Burzichelli on Thursday said his Assembly-approved legislation to reform and boost the state’s off-track wagering system should be part of the debate.

Burzichelli’s bill (A-1705) would make several changes to New Jersey’s off-track wagering statute, most notably allowing the entities other than the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to run the facilities.

Qualified and well-suited entities would earn the rights to off-track wagering through a public bidding process, expanding off-track wagering and opening it to new opportunities.

“Off-track wagering hasn’t taken off as successfully as it should have, and clearly it hasn’t helped our horse racing industry as much as we had hoped,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “One of the reasons for that is our current law has proven too cumbersome. We can change this rather easily with this bill, which I hope becomes part of the discussion in the weeks ahead as we devise a plan for the future of gaming in our state.”

Off-track wagering in New Jersey was authorized by a 2001 law. The law allowed it at 15 locales, but so far only three are operational.

Burzichelli said the changes in the bill would allow places such as restaurants to offer off-track wagering, provided they meet the strict requirements in the bill.

“Making off-track wagering more widely accessible can only help generate interest in our horse racing industry,” Burzichelli said. “That hasn’t happened under our current law, but with these changes we can make off-track wagering within reach of more New Jersey sports and horse racing fans without hurting attendance at our tracks, and that can only be a good thing.”

Under the bill, the New Jersey Racing Commission and Treasury Department would develop a public bidding process for the remaining, unissued off-track wagering licenses to maximize their value on the open market.

In awarding the licenses, the commission would take into consideration the following:

· The monetary value of the bid in comparison to other bids submitted;

· The level of quality of the proposed facility and amenities in striving to be a first-rate experience for the customer;

· The potential of the proposed facility and amenities to generate greater interest in the horse racing industry and the sport of horse racing in the state; and

· The proximity of the bidder’s intended location and its impact on other planned or existing off-track wagering sites and racetracks in the state.

Revenue from the winning bids would be dedicated to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Standardbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association of New Jersey.

Applicants would have to receive approval from the municipal planning board, and off-track wagering licensees also would be required to pay to the host municipality 4 percent of their net wagering profits.

“This is a no-lose idea based on common sense,” Burzichelli said. “It would increase interest in horse racing and allow municipalities to benefit from hosting these facilities by giving them new revenue to help combat property taxes.”

If no liquor licenses are available in the municipality, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control would be permitted to issue a non-transferable special liquor license to an off-track wagering licensee with an initial fee of 2.5 times the sales price of a liquor license in the municipality.

The revenue derived from this fee would be distributed as follows:

· 25 percent of the proceeds would go to the municipality;

· 25 percent to the ABC; and

· 50 percent to other liquor license holders in the municipality, excluding the licensees that hold inactive licenses.

The bill passed the Assembly 75-0-3 in May and has now been referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.