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Sports betting parlor near strip mall nixed by judge after lawmakers OK'd it

6th September, 12:45

A federal judge has told the owners of a booming retail shopping mecca on the site of a former horserace track they cannot open a sports betting parlor.

The ruling was announced Wednesday in federal district court in Camden.

Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners, a Piscataway real estate company that includes an owner of the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City, sought court action to invalidate a deed restriction for the 600-acre property that gives exclusive rights for off-track wagering and gaming to a company that includes ownership in Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and Parx Casino in Pennsylvania.

The owner of the commercial strip -- which already features an array of big-box retailers including Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond, a Wegmans supermarket and will soon add a Costco and Trader Joe's -- had submitted plans for a sports betting parlor to the Cherry Hill planning board.

The judge methodically dismantled Towne Center Partners' argument for invalidating the deed covenant.

"It would appear that, rather than accepting (Garden State Park Racing's) invitation to "discuss (the) matter," Cherry Hill Towne Center raced to the courthouse and, on June 31, 2018, filed this suit," Judge Renee Marie Bumb wrote in her decision. "The court finds the covenant unambiguous and not overly broad. The covenant can only mean exactly what it says."

Garden State Park Racing, GSPR, still owns a 10-acre parcel along Route 70, a key corridor connecting routes to the shore with roads to Philadelphia, on one side of the development. The parcel still includes the entrance gate to the former track which closed 19 years ago. The company had floated plans to open an off-track betting parlor here for nearly two decades.

Towne Center Partners had argued the deed restriction should be invalidated because it could not have foreseen legalized sports betting in New Jersey. When sports betting was legalized last year, it was restricted to Atlantic City, five former racetrack sites, such as Garden State Park and online and phone sports betting.

The commercial strip owners also argued that GSPR was "restraining trade" and contravening the wishes of the state to allow sports betting here and revenue derived from it.

The judge also rejected that argument.

"Under the facts and circumstances of this case, the court does not find that the covenant itself unreasonably restrains trade," she said. "The covenant does not 'burden all or most available locales to prevent them from competing in' sports wagering. Rather, it only burdens the GSP Property, therefore the court holds that this factor does not weigh against reasonableness."

A request for comment from the lead attorney for Towne Center Partners in this matter was not immediately returned Thursday. A request for comment from the lead attorney for GSPR was also not immediately returned Thursday.

Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips.

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