Battle over future of sports betting at Garden State Park heads to court

Cherry Hill Towne Center, which owns shopping center, has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to open sports book at former racetrack

Two firms that each have a stake in the former Garden State Park racetrack site are locked in a legal battle over who should be allowed to open a sports betting facility on the property.

Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners LLC, the firm that owns the shopping plaza at the former racetrack location, filed a lawsuit last month seeking to invalidate a 19-year-old deed restriction involving GS Park Racing, the former owners of the racetrack.

The deed restriction, according to court documents, prohibits any company except GSPR from ever operating an off-track betting facility or any gambling complex on the site of the racetrack.

Cherry Hill Towne Center says in a complaint it wants to open an off-track horse wagering facility and/or sports betting complex on the site. However, according to a letter attached to the lawsuit, GSPR has threatened to enforce the deed restriction to prevent the operation of any betting facility.

Attorneys representing Cherry Hill Towne Center and GSPR could not be reached for comment on the case.

Gov. Murphy signed legislation in November to permit sports betting in New Jersey after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning sports books in most states. A provision in the state law allows sports betting facilities to open at former horse racetracks if racing was conducted within a 15-year period prior to 2014.

Garden State Park is one of five locations other than Atlantic City casinos where sports books can open, according to Cherry Hill Towne Center.

GSPR still owns a 10-acre parcel on the racetrack property, but Cherry Hill Towne Center owns a majority of the site, including where the racetrack oval was located, according to the lawsuit.

State law excludes sports wagering in areas “other than the land contained within the racecourse oval,” as The Cherry Hill Sun previously reported.

However, the deed restriction applies to the whole property, and GSPR has threatened to enforce it if Cherry Hill Towne Center moves forward with plans to open a betting facility.

A letter from an attorney representing GSPR to Cherry Hill Towne Center is included in the lawsuit as an exhibit.

“We wanted to bring this matter to your attention and inform you that GSPR attaches significant importance and value to the rights it holds under the restrictive covenants,” reads the letter, which was dated June 22.

Cherry Hill Towne Center wants the courts to strike down the deed restriction because “it has no end date, fails to reasonably protect any of the legitimate business interests of any of the defendants, and is void as against public policy,” according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, the company also argues the 1999 deed restriction does not apply to sports betting because that type of gambling was not legalized at the time the document was drafted.

Cherry Hill Towne Center also alleges that GSPR is trying to block the opening of a sports book in the township to protect its other gambling properties from competition.

Greenwood Racing Inc., another defendant in the case and part owner of GSPR, operates Parx Casino and Racing in Bensalem, Pa., and runs Freehold Raceway in a partnership with Penn National Gaming Inc., which also has a stake in GSPR.

The attorney representing Greenwood Racing and GSPR in the case did not respond to a request for comment.

According to court documents, Cherry Hill Town Center Partners LLC is comprised of Century 21 Construction president Joseph Marino, Jack Morris, who helped develop Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and attorney Sheryl Weingarten, who is married to Morris.

The lawsuit was originally filed July 31 in Camden County Superior Court, but an attorney for the defendants filed a notice of removal Aug. 16 to move to case to federal court on the basis that the firms involved are from different states.