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Meadowlands casino plan a crapshoot, says Gural

Jeff Gural opened his remarks at last Thursday’s B’nai B’rith luncheon by saying that when he first entered the workforce, his primary goal was to earn a yearly salary of $15,000 while working as a civil engineer.

Gural wants to open a casino at the Meadowlands race track.
Gural wants to open a casino at the Meadowlands race track.

Decades later, his sights are set on a much loftier achievement.

The chairman of Newmark Grubb Night Frank wants to bring a casino to his Meadowlands property in New Jersey and he spoke candidly on the process with Real Estate Weekly during the B’nai B’rith event.

“My bet was Atlantic City was going to fail,” said Gural while discussing his decision to buy the struggling track. “I didn’t think it would fail as badly as it did, but my bet was it was going to fail because Atlantic City is so greedy they don’t want to see any competition in the North, even though they know that it’s ridiculous (to have) all of your casinos in one town.”

“They have a lot of political power,” said Gural. “But what we’re proposing is to pay a much higher tax rate and to use the money to help Atlantic City. Even with that proposal they’re against it. But had they been successful, I think it would have been almost impossible to get a casino in the North.”

That roulette wheel is still spinning for Gural, who is hopeful that the state will decide soon whether or not it will allow casino activity outside of the faltering shore town. The issue may be voted on this fall, but even that is not yet certain.

“It’s been a struggle,” said Gural, “but I suspect that we’re in the homestretch of whether they’re going to decide to put  on the ballot in November in Jersey a referendum that would allow gambling outside of Atlantic City.”

“Hopefully it will,” he continued. “And then, hopefully, I’ll be able to get that license. It’s really a crapshoot, but if I hit it, it will be a home run.”

Trotting around the bases may be the only thing that saves the struggling Meadowlands facility. Gural admitted that his investment in the project has improved the location’s aesthetics, but not its bottom line.

“When we took over the old Meadowlands, it was a complete dump. Nobody went, it was empty and it’s really been hard to get the message out,” he said.

Gural built a new $88 million stand for the race track.
Gural built a new $88 million stand for the race track.

“So we built this brand new grandstand which is absolutely gorgeous, everybody loves it and it’s definitely an artistic success, but we really struggle to get the word out that it’s a brand new grandstand.

“The governor (Chris Christie) hates horse racing and a couple of years ago he decided that he would close the Meadowlands, which would have basically destroyed harness racing,” Gural said while discussing his motivation to get involved with the project.

“The Meadowlands is the hub of harness racing. At the very late, last minute, I made a deal with the state to take it over for like a dollar a year. But it was purely a gamble that Atlantic City would fail and that ultimately the state would have no choice but to put a casino at the Meadowlands.

“The only thing that really works there is the nightclub,” Gural continued before adding that a club brings with it other risks, such as underage drinking and drug use on the premises.

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