CHERRY HILL – Garden State Park’s former operator is seeking approval from the state to open an off-track sports betting facility. Garden State Park closed as a racetrack on May 3, 2001. The park’s 600-acres are now home to a high-end, mixed-use development of shops, restaurants, apartments, townhouses, and condos according to the Courier Post.
Garden State Park first opened on July 7, 1942. In its heyday, the track hosted many of the best-thoroughbred racehorses in the country at its signature Jersey Derby. Likewise, the track’s Gardenia Stakes and Garden State Stakes offered the largest purses open to for two-year-old horses. Horses that raced at Garden State Park included Citation, Whirlaway, and Secretariat.
The Current Legal Battle
Garden State Park Racing wants to open a 30,000-square-foot gambling facility with a bar and restaurant. The new building, which would be situated on a 10-acre site at Garden State Boulevard and Route 70, would also host all gaming activities legal in the Garden State. The proposal will be presented to the township planning board on Feb. 18, 2020.
This proposal comes as Garden State Park Racing is engaged in a legal battle with Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners LLC, which also wants to open a sports-betting facility elsewhere on the property. Garden State Park Racing argues that the covenant gives it the exclusive right to offer “gambling and gaming of any sort” at the former horse racing track. The covenant has been in effect since 1999.
But the development firm, Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners LLC, which is developing the remainder of the 212-acre property, argues that state law also allows it to offer sports betting. The developer further contends that the covenant held by Garden State Park Racing is overly broad and mentions nothing specific to sports betting.
Last September, U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb ruled that Garden State Park Racing would likely prevail in its position. However, Judge Bumb did not issue an injunction barring the rival proposal. Thus, the legal battle will continue for now.
Judge Bumb noted that the covenant was unambiguous in its wording, and could only mean exactly what it states. She further noted that the covenant’s reference to wagering was “of any sort,” and that must include sports betting, since that is a ‘sort’ of wagering. Judge Bumb further indicated that she was not convinced that the covenant substantially interfered with sports wagering in the state, noting that it only applies a single parcel of land. Finally, she pointed out that the covenant expressly permits gaming at the former race track, as long as it was conducted by Garden State Park Racing.
The Plans are On-Hold
Garden State Park Racing is currently requesting that the planning board approve the preliminary and final major site plan for their proposed gambling facility. They are not requesting specific variances for the project, but are seeking any and all recommended variances that might be requested by the board or its professional review staff.
Garden State Park Racing’s parent company, Greenwood Racing, also owns Parx Casino, a racetrack in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and off-track betting facilities in Valley Forge and Philadelphia.
The legal battle began shortly after sports betting was legalized in New Jersey in June 2018. Attorneys for Cherry Hill Towne Center and Garden State Park Racing could not be reached for immediate comment.
An attorney for Garden State Park Racing contacted the developer, Cherry Hill, shortly after sports betting was legalized, noting the covenant’s restrictions. The attorneys anticipated that Cherry Hill would be interested in discussing the matter of possible sports betting facilities with their client.
According to Judge Bumb’s ruling, Cherry Hill Towne Center immediately sought a court order which would allow its facility to open. In turn, Garden State Park Racing requested the preliminary injunction.
According to court records, a status conference for the matter is scheduled for March 6, 2020.
Last year, Cherry Hill Towne Center began to prepare a space in Towne Place at Garden State Park shopping center for the betting facility. However, that project is behind schedule and far from completion. On the other hand, Garden State Park Racing’s property is vacant land that sits outside the former race track.