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No construction timetable yet for betting parlor at former racetrack

19th February, 04:28

CHERRY HILL - A proposed off-track betting facility has moved closer to the starting gate with approval from the township's planning board.

But don't saddle the horses yet.

The developer says a construction timetable's still uncertain for a planned 30,000-square-foot building with seating for more than 500 patrons.

The facility's expected to rise on a 10-acre site off westbound Route 70 at Garden State Boulevard. The site was once part of the former Garden State Park racetrack.

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"We don't want to speculate (on an opening date)," Chris McErlean, an executive at Penn National Gaming, said after the board gave its unanimous consent.

He described the proposed building -- identified on renderings at Favorites at Garden State -- as "essentially a sports bar-restaurant that allows wagering on (televised) horse-racing."

The OTB parlor is projected to operate from noon to midnight seven days a week, McErlean told the bar before their vote. It would support 10 full-time jobs and about 45 part-time positions, he said.

McErlean predicted an older, predominately male crowd would bet on horse races at the site, with many patrons extending their visits over several hours.

But he did not rule out a shift to sports betting, currently the subject of litigation at the former track.

"We'd like to offer whatever is available," McErlean said.

A Penn National affiliate, GS Park Racing, is fighting in court with another firm that wants to open a sports-betting parlor elsewhere at the former track.

GS Park Racing contends a deed restriction in effect since 1999 gives it the exclusive right to offer "gambling and gaming of any sort" at the former track. The company once operated the racetrack, which closed in 2001.

A firm developing the rest of the 212-acre property with homes and stores contends a state law allows it to offer sports betting inside the former racetrack oval.

The developer, Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners LLC., argues the deed restriction is "overly broad" and does not mention sports betting.

The lone resident to address the board, Brian Everett, did not oppose the OTB project, but urged township officials to impose a tax on gaming revenues.

"I think this has the potential to be more than horse-racing," said Everett, who said the tax could benefit township schools.

The OTB project, which would preserve an existing gatehouse off Route 70, is expected to cause "a very minimal increase in traffic," said Nathan Mosley, a consultant for Penn National. He said patrons are expected to come and go over a period of hours when traffic is not at peak congestion.

Mosley also noted a traffic light will be installed on Garden State Boulevard, between the OTB parlor and a Home Depot, as part of the ongoing construction of a planned Costco store.

Board members noted Penn National's flexibility in working with township officials and predicted the OTB facility would find a following.

"As someone whose family loved horse-racing, I'm glad to see this can live on," said board member Alise Panitch.

And board member Marlyn Kalitan noted her husband expressed his own approval as soon as he heard about the project.

"He was so excited," she said.

According to its website, Penn National "owns, operates or has ownership interests in gaming and racing facilities and video gaming terminal operations with a focus on slot machine entertainment."

The Pennsylvania-based firm has 41 facilities in 19 jurisdictions, including OTB parlors in Gloucester Township and Toms River.

Jim Walsh is a free-range reporter who's been roaming around South Jersey for decades. His interests include crime, the courts, economic development and being first with breaking news. Reach him at or look for him in traffic.