On Friday, details emerged of plans to transform Garden State Park Racetrack (GSP) in Cherry Hill into the state’s first standalone sports betting property.

But there’s a problem: The story first reported by ROI-NJ triggered the ongoing litigation alarms.

NJGamblingSites.com received a copy of a letter dated March 1 from Ballard Saphr LLP (the law firm representing GS Park Racing, L.P. and Greenwood Racing) to Judge Renee Marie Bumb.

The defendants are part of an ongoing case fighting plaintiff Cherry Hill Towne Ctr. Partners LLC from “opening and operating a sports wagering lounge or engaging in the business of sports wagering at or within GSP Property.”

The letter references the ROI-NJ article specifically and requests the court to step in and stop GSP from moving forward with its sportsbook plans.

“If the information in this online article is correct, plaintiff is engaging in self-help in the face of a pending motion for a preliminary injunction. In those circumstances, we thought it would be best to bring the matter to the Court’s attention, so the Court can address as best as the Court deems fit.

“Of course, moving defendants stand ready to assist in aiding the Court in entering the requested preliminary injunction and in enforcing its terms.”

To read the full letter, click here.

The story mentions the Garden State Park sportsbook “could be open in the next 90 days.” But based on this letter, and the ongoing legal battle, that seems like a highly unlikely possibility.

NJ sports betting plans + legal issues

The proposed NJ sports betting facility would include 142 seats, but additional details pertaining to the overall size and potential partner(s) have not been made public.

Jack Morris, who is a part owner of the Hard Rock Atlantic City, and Joe Marino are the people behind the transformation project. SOSH Architects is handling the design component.

But the legal battle over sports betting at the former racetrack continues to be a lingering issue. The latest roadblock dates back to 2018 when sports betting in New Jersey first launched.

What the legal battle at GSP is all about

In a nutshell, the dispute is between Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners (the developers) and Garden State Park Racing (the former racetrack operator).

Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners filed a lawsuit in August claiming that a gaming firm is overstepping its boundaries by blocking Garden State Park from entering the market.

GS Park Racing, on the other hand, claims it has had restrictive covenants at the track since 1999 and says it holds exclusive rights to accept wagers at the facility.

More to the point, the lawsuit claims that legal sports betting could not have been part of the original plan for the racetrack.

But according to the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges those restrictions, particularly with sports betting, are “invalid and unenforceable.”

The case remains open and that is where things have stood until Friday’s news.

Horse racing at Garden State Park

The former Garden State Park, once home to the Jersey Derby, is located off of Route 70, one of the roads commuters travel to get to and from Philadelphia.

The racetrack itself was once home to both harness and thoroughbred races but experienced its share of ups and downs.

Here are a few key dates in GSP history:

  • Opening day: July 7, 1942
  • Fire destroys GSP: April 14, 1977
  • Garden State Park reopens: April 1, 1985
  • Last race: May 3, 2001

Ironically, back before GSP closed for good, there was talk of adding slot machines to NJ racetracks, but the bill got vetoed by then Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. 

Today, the old track, grandstand, and clubhouse are distant memories. The area is now known as Market Place & Towne Place at Garden State Park.

Instead of betting on the ponies, customers visit the area to shop and eat. The land also includes residential housing.

Does a sportsbook make sense at Garden State Park?

So how can Garden State Park be eligible for a sports betting license in NJ if it’s now more a shopping center than a racetrack?

Looking at the lay of the land, opening a sports betting facility in the middle of a family-friendly retail and residential complex may seem out of place.

However, NJ sports betting law includes a licensing loophole that extends beyond Atlantic City casinos and active racetracks in New Jersey.

That means the two shuttered racetracks (Atlantic City Racetrack being the other) are eligible for a sports betting license, too.

Under the rules, the former racetrack needs to have held horse racing in the past 15 years of the law’s passage (2014). With GSP’s last race taking place in 2001, it just makes the cut.

If it did open a standalone sportsbook, GSP would join a very crowded market.

The eight Atlantic City sportsbooks are located walking distance from the casino floor and the two at the racetracks are paired with horse racing. And thanks to NJ online sports betting, people can place bets using the DraftKings SportsbookFanDuel Sportsbook, or their pick of more than a dozen sportsbook apps in the state.

The nearby Philadelphia market is home to four retail sportsbooks.

But who should get the license and will such a standalone sportsbook ever happen?

The former racetrack operator and current development firm are taking their respective cases to court. Until then, any sports betting plans are in a holding pattern.

Bill Gelman

About

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill spends time in Atlantic City writing about casino openings and expansions, special events and world championship boxing at Boardwalk Hall. He is now adding NJ sports betting and online gambling to the mix.