What do you get when you bring the richest harness racing horse of all time, a prominent jockey, and one of the premier harness horse drivers in the state together?
The answer: a big win for Bayonne, as the long-anticipated off-track wagering facility, Winners Bayonne, opened its doors on July 17. It is the first off-track wagering facility built and operated by Jeff Gural’s New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC. Branded as a sports bar with action, the 25,000 square-foot venue boasts two large simulcast areas, a VIP room, a 38-seat bar, and a full-service restaurant operated by McLoone’s. With more than 150 television screens, the facility aims to please horseplayers and sports fans alike.
Built on a vacant lot on Route 440, the venue is an $18 million new construction project that brings 100 jobs and an estimated $200,000 in property taxes to the city of Bayonne.
The location was originally selected by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority because of robust lottery sales, a large player database of horseplayers in the Staten Island market, and strong community support.
“It’s going to be an economic boon to the city of Bayonne.” – Mayor Mark Smith
SOSH Architects of Atlantic City designed Winners Bayonne, a company that also designed Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack in Pennsylvania and Tropicana: The Quarter in Atlantic City.
LP Ciminelli of Buffalo managed construction of the project.
Among the throng that gathered for the official ribbon cutting were Gallo Blue Chip, the richest standard-bred racehorse in history; Brian Sears, six-time leading harness driver at the Meadowlands; Chuckie Lopez, one of the all-time leading jockeys at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands; New Meadowlands Racetrack Chairman Jeff Gural; restaurant operator Tim McLoone; and Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith.
“As you’ve seen for those of you who have been inside, we have built a beautiful facility and we’re hoping that we will attract horse players from the region,” said Gural. “I think this is the nicest OTW in North America and I’m glad to do it in Bayonne. I know this is a city the mayor is working to revitalize.”
He said former industrial sites along the highway have been converted to shopping malls, and he hopes this facility is part of that effort.
“I can’t tell you how many times we have received help from the city,” he said. “Whenever we needed something, they were right on the spot. We had to move utilities and signs. It was nice to see everyone working together to get this open.”
Vincent Virga, chairman of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce, called the new facility good news for Bayonne.
“I think this facility brings wonderful news to the city, from a jobs perspective to a rateables perspective,” he said. “I’ve always said if it’s fair and equitable to all involved it is a good thing, and I think everyone benefits, property owners, business owners, the city as well as the people who visit this facility.”
Not a gambler, Virga said he will likely come to Winners Bayonne to visit McLoone’s restaurant.
“I’ve eaten at a McLoone’s in Long Branch, and I can tell you it’s top notch,” Virga said.
Councilman Raymond Greaves emphasized the jobs.
“It’s going to bring jobs and its going to help stimulate the economy here in Bayonne,” Greaves said.
Mayor Mark Smith called it a vibrant project.
“It’s going to be an economic boon to the city of Bayonne,” he said. “It will be a Mecca for sports enthusiasts and horse players through the entire area.”
Council President Terrence Ruane called it “a very high class facility.”
Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell said it is a sign Bayonne is improving.
“They have placed their faith in our community. They see what we see, that Bayonne is a happening place, business friendly and a good place to plant their flag.”
Freeholder Bill O’Dea was also impressed.
“As a guy who likes to play the horses, this place is state of the art,” he said. “It is obvious from its location near the Bayonne Bridge that they are looking also to draw people from Staten Island.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.