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Battle brewing over former New Jersey racetrack eyed for sports betting

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A gaming company is using a 19-year-old agreement to illegally restrict who can offer sports betting at a defunct southern New Jersey racetrack, a federal lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit by developer Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners challenges a 1999 document that permanently forbids wagering activity other than by defendant Garden State Park Racing and its successors at the former Garden State Park racetrack. GSPR’s parent, Greenwood Racing, which operates the Parx casino and racetrack north of Philadelphia, also is named as a defendant.

The track held its last race in 2001 and closed in 2002. Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners wants to operate a sports betting facility there. It’s now a mixed-use residential and retail center.

At stake is one of New Jersey’s coveted venues for legal sports betting, made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in May invalidating a federal ban that had been in effect since the early 1990s.

New Jersey’s legislation authorizes sports betting at casinos and racetracks. Currently sports betting is available at six of Atlantic City’s nine casinos and two racetracks — Monmouth Park, at the New Jersey shore, and the Meadowlands next to MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.

New Jersey lawmakers specifically worded the legislation to allow sports betting at former racetracks that had been in operation within 15 years of the effective date of New Jersey’s sports betting law in 2014. They also restricted it to land “contained within the racecourse oval” — a key point in the lawsuit, which contends the developer’s property “includes the prior racetrack oval where the actual races took place.” The suit argues GSPR’s property can’t qualify under state law for use as a sports wagering facility since it doesn’t include the oval.

The 1999 document regarding Garden State Park “is unreasonable in its duration and scope and is against public policy,” the lawsuit claims, adding that sports betting “wasn’t part of the intended scope” of the agreement since New Jersey’s concerted effort to challenge the federal ban didn’t begin for at least another decade.

The suit contends Greenwood Racing has actively resisted offering off-track horse racing wagering at the site so as not to compete against its facilities in Pennsylvania.

The suit seeks to invalidate the 1999 agreement and other unspecified relief from the court. The suit was filed in Camden County last month and moved to federal court last week.

The defendants are scheduled to file a response next month. An attorney representing the defendants didn’t immediately respond to a message Wednesday.

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