Camden County gets offtrack betting site

The Favorites offtrack betting facility has 130 flat-screen TVs, a patio, and a bar. MICHAEL BOREN / Staff
The Favorites offtrack betting facility has 130 flat-screen TVs, a patio, and a bar. MICHAEL BOREN / Staff
Posted: July 03, 2014

Horse-racing enthusiasts in Camden County have had two choices when gambling in person: Drive an hour to the nearest offtrack betting facility in New Jersey, or across the Delaware River to one in Philadelphia.

Now, Camden County gamblers can bet on a shorter commute.

Favorites, the state's fifth offtrack betting facility, opened Tuesday in Clementon. Penn National Gaming Inc., which is managing it, hopes the new site will draw South Jersey gamblers and, ultimately, compete with the betting parlors in Pennsylvania.

"We think it's a good market," Christopher McErlean, vice president for racing at Penn National, said about Camden County. "We think it's good demand."

Building the new site, which has 130 flat-screen TVs, a patio, and a 50-seat bar, came with a battle.

In 2011, Penn National Gaming sued Greenwood Racing, the group it partners with to own Freehold Raceway in New Jersey. Penn National wanted to build a betting facility in Camden County, but Greenwood officials opposed it, McErlean said.

Greenwood owns Parx Racing, which manages a betting facility in South Philadelphia - one that attracts gamblers from New Jersey.

In 2012, however, a lawsuit was settled, allowing for creation of the Clementon location.

"Not the cleanest thing to do," McErlean said of the lawsuit. "But certainly the end result was satisfactory to us."

Greenwood officials did not return calls for comment.

Unlike another betting parlor that Penn National Gaming manages in Toms River, which McErlean said was built from the ground up, the Clementon location was created in an existing building. It formerly housed the Stone Grille restaurant, which closed in 2012. Favorites is using the same patio and bar from the restaurant.

McErlean said much of the other costs came from installing new TVs and wiring. He said that he could not specify the exact price but that it was cheaper than the Toms River facility.

Horse racing was once a staple in Camden County.

Garden State Park, built in 1942 in Cherry Hill, hosted thoroughbred races on its 600-acre track, but closed in 2001 because of poor revenue and attendance. It was demolished in 2005.

An offtrack betting site was expected to be built there but never came to be.

Horse racing is the only sport that can be bet on in New Jersey. Several other locations that allow for betting include the Favorites locations in Vineland, Fords, and the Winners in Bayonne. Online betting for horse racing is also allowed in New Jersey.

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