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Don’t Bet on Off-Track Wagering in Cherry Hill

Any racing legacy left at the old Garden State Park track likely ends with the old gatehouse.

Garden State Park racetrack's original 1942 gatehouse was supposed to front an off-track betting parlor on the property, but it appears that parlor may never materialize. Photo by Bryan Littel.
Garden State Park racetrack's original 1942 gatehouse was supposed to front an off-track betting parlor on the property, but it appears that parlor may never materialize. Photo by Bryan Littel.

Amid acres of asphalt and brick-faced big-box stores, the southwest gatehouse of the old Garden State Park racetrack stands, battered with time, as the last hint of the Golden Triangle’s thoroughbred past.

It stood at that spot 71 years ago, when the track first opened, and a renovated and restored version of it was to be the nostalgic front piece to the 10-acre home of an off-track betting (OTB) parlor for horse racing fans in the area.

However, more than a decade after the original approval for the betting parlor on the old racetrack property, all indications are those plans are dead.

Hints of the parlor’s possible demise first came eight months ago. Penn National Gaming Inc., one of the partners involved in GS Park Racing LP, which was to bring the Cherry Hill site to fruition, announced it had instead signed a lease on the former Stone Grille in Gloucester Township for an OTB parlor there.

With that parlor, now called Favorites at Gloucester Township, moving closer to final approval from the state—commissioners have to render a final decision shortly—a second location in Camden County would be unlikely, given state regulations. Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National, indicated earlier this year the company is only looking at central New Jersey for further expansion at this point.

A year ago, McErlean told NJBiz.com there was a third site under consideration, potentially in Maple Shade, but McErlean acknowledged at a June meeting of the state Racing Commission that proximity of sites is something the company weighed when picking Gloucester Township, as commissioners can reject applications for OTB sites deemed too close to others.

Though GS Park Racing LP, a partnership between Penn National and Greenwood Racing, still holds approvals for the Cherry Hill property good through the end of 2014, attorney Barbara Casey, who represents GS Park Racing, said an OTB parlor isn’t the only possibility for the land.

Casey didn’t return a call seeking further comment on the development, given the progress on the Gloucester Township site, but earlier this year said there are still long-term plans for the site—though she declined to elaborate on what those plans might be.

Those plans are strong enough GS Park Racing has actually gone so far as to reject offers to buy the property, Casey said, though she wouldn’t name any companies or individuals who may have inquired about the 10-acre tract.

“People have approached them about buying the site,” she said. “They’re not interested in selling right now.”

There’s little evidence the company is still considering an OTB parlor for the Garden State Park site, though—state racing officials said there’s been no application for a betting parlor on the property, and township officials indicated they hadn’t heard of any plans—OTB or otherwise.

Township officials actually took the step of designating the OTB site as one of two up for a yet-to-be completed redevelopment study at a meeting earlier this summer, a move met with strong opposition.

“That 10 acres was always meant to go to the operators of the track,” Casey said. “Whether that site becomes an off-track wagering facility or it’s utilized for some other business purpose…it has value to them.”
Phil Meyers August 16, 2013 at 08:52 AM
I don't know, I think the Township should have encouraged the off-track betting parlor. It would give the area a different form of entertainment other than the same old restaurant or shopping venue. Missed opportunity here.

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